You can't wash your hands without running water. Isolating is not possible without a home. That is why municipalities and homeless agencies scrambled at the start of COVID-19 to relocate or temporary house Fairfield County's most vulnerable population, the region's homeless.
Some people were moved from congregate shelters to hotel rooms, while others were shifted from a more crowded shelter to one where social distancing could still be maintained. Still many remained living on the streets just like before.
Inspirica in Stamford, which provides emergency shelters, transitional housing and permanent supportive housing for the homeless population at 12 facilities including two that serve just women and families, was able to keep those sites fully staffed and operational the entire time in COVID-19, according to spokesperson Sarah Kennedy.
A warming center run by Inspirica provides an overnight stay that offers a light meal and breakfast and was especially needed most of the COVID-19 spring months when cold nights made it feel more like winter.
There were instances where both staff and the people they serve had to be "shifted" to less crowded facilities for safety during the health crisis. This will likely transition again with Phase 2 and the state opening up and the ultimate goal remains permanent housing, said Kennedy.
Inspirica serves 1,050 homeless people per year and about 375 nightly through the shelter programs. The services like all of Connecticut are accessed through the Coordinated Access Networks or CAN 2-1-1.
Bridgeport has an Operation Care Team to work with the city's homeless population and relocated 97 people early on in the quarantine, many of whom were utilizing the congregate homeless shelters.
In addition, people that were homeless came into the city from other areas, said Scott Appleby, the City's Director of Emergency Management. Prior to COVID-19, Connecticut had seen a decline in its homeless population, he noted.
"I don't know if there's an increase (in Connecticut), but we're getting more people outside our community coming in than before," said Appleby. "But throughout the process, the shelters didn't close."
Bridgeport has three shelters, one just for families and children. Food services are run by church groups and various agencies in a coordinated effort.
"Those services never closed down," Appleby said.
He said some individuals had to be moved from the shelter to hotels to align with Gov. Ned Lamont's “Stay Safe, Stay Home" guidelines.
"Those who were symptomatic were placed in hotels in Bridgeport and surrounding areas," Appleby added.
Currently, Bridgeport is working on transitioning the individuals from hotels back to the shelters, though there are "some social-distancing limitations," said Appleby. Bridgeport YMCA was utilized for people who were symptomatic and had to 14-day quarantine.
"We've had folks from Stamford, Danbury, New Haven throughout the process," he said. "In general as long as they get processed through the 211 CAN system, they'll get whatever they need."
Currently, Danbury is housing approximately 65 homeless individuals a night in a motel due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"This is our emergency shelter that was created when other local shelters had to close due to the pandemic. Prior to this, the City operated a shelter with 20 beds," said Taylor O'Brien, public relations coordinator for the Danbury Mayor's Office. "I cannot be sure of where everyone is from originally, but if they are in Danbury, we are going to help them."
"There is a system in place to enter the shelter. This is usually a last resort as more permanent housing is the goal. Anyone who becomes homeless should call 2-1-1 for services and assistance. There are several agencies in Danbury committed to finding resources for homeless individuals including food and housing. Dorothy Day is one of our area partners in this effort," O'Brien said.
The Dorothy Day Hospitality House overnight shelter is not open. The kitchen serves grab-and-go bags daily from 3 to 4 p.m. Check the website for updates.
Entry to all homeless services, rapid rehousing and supportive housing in Connecticut is coordinated through United Way InfoLine 211.
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