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Homeless Shelters Tackling the "Freedom to Freeze"

January 26, 2011

NEW HAVEN, Conn. - The homeless holdouts in makeshift shelters in the woods known as Tent City on the New Haven-West Haven border are being urged to come in from the cold. It could be a matter of life or death in the face of Connecticut's frigid, snowy weather.

Rebecca Allen, director of programs and services at New Haven's Columbus House shelter, says on recent super-cold nights, staffers have searched out people living under bridges, in cars or otherwise exposed to the elements.

"We checked on the folks at Tent City and living outside twice, to make sure they had blankets and heaters and firewood. They all had cell phones; they all had sleeping bags."

She says they offer rides to the shelter, and some people accept. In light of continuing bad weather forecast for Wednesday night, homeless shelters around the state have decided to postpone their biennial "Point in Time" Homeless Count to later in the week. Allen says the count is required by federal officials, but it also assists local shelters.

"It allows us to compare data every other year for sheltered and unsheltered, so we're really starting to compare apples to apples."

Meanwhile, those who do come in normally have to leave the shelters during the day, although Allen notes there are exceptions.

"If the weather is absolutely horrendous, both our overflow and our shelter stay open."

She says the overflow shelter for men has far exceeded its 75-bed capacity, up to as many as 110. Columbus House never turns women away, setting up extra cots as needed, she adds.

Melinda Tuhus, Public News Service - CT