A homeless encampment next to I-84 in Hartford
One of several tents within a homeless encampment next to I-84 in Hartford on Tuesday, March 20, 2021. Credit: Doug Hardy / CTNewsJunkie

Homeless shelters around the state are getting ready for winter thanks, in part, to $5 million in aid from the Department of Housing. 

The $5 million will go to seven Coordinated Access Networks, or CANs, around the state to provide cold weather homeless shelters. 

“During the summer months, the warmer months some people stay outside and don’t choose to shelter,” Jamie Parker, project manager with Thames Valley Council for Community Action in Jewett City, said. “When it gets brutally cold like it does, we do have those people that are seeking to come inside.” 

But service providers also said the funding won’t be enough for the winter and are asking for more funding. Advocates had pushed for lawmakers to include $50 million in this year’s budget to offset the loss of American Rescue Plan Act money. 

“We already last year had to turn people away, so there’s still a gap,” Matthew Morgan, executive director of Journey Home in Hartford, said. 

The DOH notified CANs of the funding via letters in late September, telling them the funding can be used for staffing, food and shelter locations. No more than 15% of the funding can go to administrative costs. 

Parker said the TVCCA works with three different cold weather shelters in the CAN that handles the eastern part of the state, and the DOH’s timing on the release of the money allows those providers to start planning. 

She also said providers are short on staffing and looking for help.  

While the funding allows the shelters to get started, the providers already say they’ll need more. 

Morgan said Journey Home alone was able to add 191 beds in recent years, servicing roughly 890 more additional people annually. 

He said state provided funding to various programs accounted for 78 of those beds, with the rest of the money coming from municipalities, federal aid and other sources. 

Even those beds weren’t enough, though. 

“Even with this additional capacity, there were still many nights where we still did not have sufficient capacity in the winter time and had to turn people away,” Morgan said. 

Now state funding returns to normal levels without the ARPA dollars at a time when providers said their needs and costs are growing. 

The Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness estimates that homelessness is up 13% from last year, and service providers said they’re seeing that additional demand. 

Parker said shelters are even seeing increases in elderly adults and families who are homeless and in need of a place to stay. 

“Homeless services — it’s a public health crisis,” she said. “There’s never enough funding, so I think anytime of the year there could be additional funding.” 

Shelters could also access free transportation during the pandemic — a service especially important to helping people in rural areas find and maintain work — but that, too, has come to an end. 

Additionally, Parker said shelters have to remain vigilant with COVID cases on the rise once again, with plans to deal with outbreaks amongst both residents and staff. 

Some lawmakers agree the state needs to provide more funding and support to the CANs. 

Sen. Lisa Seminara, R-Avon, a ranking member of both the Human Services and Aging committees, also called homelessness a public health crisis. 

“We need more resources both in northwest Connecticut, which I represent, and across the state,” she said in a statement. “At the same time, we must continue to do all we can to make Connecticut more affordable while improving access to vital services and resources for our most vulnerable residents.”

A bipartisan group of lawmakers joined the Coalition to End Homelessness in mid September to call for more funding. They have, so far, not been successful in convincing their colleagues, though. 

Morgan said one hurdle service providers face is that many people make a distinction between the “deserving poor” and “non-deserving poor.” 

He said people are generally willing to help veterans, families and people with jobs but who lose their home because of a crisis. 

“The majority of the homeless population doesn’t fall into those categories, it’s everybody else that often have disabling conditions, disabilities, criminal history or addiction issues that there’s no compassion for,” he said. 

Morgan and Parker both also said the state needs to put more of an emphasis on programs that help people find and stay in their homes, reducing the need for shelters.