Thirty years ago an elderly man lived in Old Saybrook, in and out of shelters for the majority of his adult life. The social worker at the town hall told him to find shelter in New Haven where there were more services for him. The man froze to death on the way. Yet, decades later, public opinion of shoreline towns still doesn’t address homelessness as the problem it is.
Wednesday nights at Asylum Hill Congregational Church (AHCC) in Hartford are busy with volunteers setting up cots, meals, and materials for the homeless in the area. In many parts of Connecticut, there are warming shelters and overflow shelters to keep people off the streets in the colder months. This is not the case for local towns.
“There is an ongoing concern that there are people living in the woods located on the border of New London and Waterford. There is still a feeling out there that these towns have never found a way to accommodate people who cannot manage on their own,” said Waterford town attorney, Robert Avena.
There are up to 30 people living there, all year round, using the nearby recreational center showers. Prolonged exposure becomes increasingly dangerous as temperatures dip, especially for those not eligible to enter shelters. The annual report of the New London Homeless Hospitality Center counts 1100 adults experiencing homelessness. 20 percent were offered shelter but did not take it, and 9 percent not eligible.
According to Erica Wimber, the founder of Shoreline Soup Kitchens, there are fewer resources available to those who are homeless in the shoreline towns, making their options either to remain homeless in their town or to be displaced in other cities. The nearest shelters are in New London for East Lyme residents. The City of Hartford uses a three-tier approach in which they provide linens and cots, the Salvation Army provide social workers, and six churches provide a warm place and food to sleep. The program runs from Dec. 4 to March 26.
“In a society where not all communities are valued the same, this has been a place for people to find value, ” said Rev. Mia, the director of community outreach at AHCC. According to her, homelessness rates have increased.
Dani Gorman, the Youth and Family Services Director for Waterford, is also concerned about youth “sofa surfing.” It’s almost impossible to determine the number of kids living with friends.
A student who asked to remain anonymous recalled his experience couch surfing:
“I ran away from home because my parents were mad at me for my grades. It lasted about a month,” the student said.
This student is one of many who struggles at home and is pushed out the door. ELHS cannot knowingly treat homelessness as a problem for “other areas, but not ours” anymore. If the community works together, cold winters can be safe for all.