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Extreme Cold: "Stretched to Limit" but Reaching CT Homeless

Photo: Winter Storm Chester has local shelters pushed to capacity, but advocates say nobody who calls 2-1-1 in the state will be turned away. Photo credit: Mark Scheerer
Photo: Winter Storm Chester has local shelters pushed to capacity, but advocates say nobody who calls 2-1-1 in the state will be turned away. Photo credit: Mark Scheerer
January 22, 2014

HARTFORD, Conn. - Winter Storm Janus is stretching capacity at local homeless shelters to the limit, but advocates say preparations have been made to ensure nobody is forced to stay out in the cold.

Some shelters are operating at 120 percent of capacity, said Lisa Tepper Bates, executive director of the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness. With the "severe weather protocol" in effect, she said, measures are in place to ensure that no one is turned away.

"State resources and local police forces and nonprofit shelters - we all have the same mission, which is to make sure that we save lives and to treat people decently," she said. "They need to be inside when it's this cold."

Helping agencies are ensuring that every inch of local shelter space is being made available during the storm, Bates said. When the extreme weather event passes, she said, they will also be working to get people into transitional and more permanent housing.

Local hospitals still are treating some homeless people who did not make it into shelter during the first polar vortex earlier this month, she said.

"They do have people, homeless, who are coming to the hospital with new illnesses or exacerbated existing illnesses because of the exposure to the extreme cold," she said. "It's both expensive and it's wrong to have people who are suffering that way."

Bates said it isn't too late - whether you are out in the cold or know somebody who is - to receive help, which is a phone call away.

"In the cold-weather protocol, 211 - the United Way of Connecticut Hotline - makes sure to work with every person who calls, to get them inside," she said.

If shelters in a particular area reach the point where nobody else can be accommodated, she said, backup plans are at the ready, including a voucher system for rooms at nearby motels.

More information is online at cceh.org.

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - CT