CT shelters facing financial concerns

January 10, 2009 1:55:00 PM PST
New Haven cannot reinstate its no-freeze policy at emergency shelters this winter because of uncertainty over funding to back it up, according to officials. New Haven cut more than $340,000 from homeless services in its 2008-09 budget, although community fundraising efforts have helped fill the gap.

City officials say no one has been turned away from a warm emergency shelter this winter.

However, they are unsure whether enough money will be available to operate overflow shelters needed to handle high volumes of guests if last year's no-freeze policy is reinstated.

"I did not feel it was a responsible thing for the city to do, to reinstate the no-freeze policy when we can't guarantee we will be able to act the same way we have in the past when we have reached capacity at the shelters," said Community Services Administrator Kica Matos.

New Haven's no-freeze policy barred shelters last winter from turning away anyone in need on cold nights.

While the no-freeze policy remains suspended, the city has lifted its 90-day limit on shelter stays until the weather improves.

The city cut $340,500 from homeless services in its 2008-09 budget, leaving only $60,000 to run the overflow facility.

Advocates for the homeless have raised tens of thousands of dollars in donations in an attempt to help cover the shortfall.

The donations enabled an overflow shelter to open Nov. 5.

However, advocates say they do not know if enough will be available to pay for an annex overflow shelter, which was needed last year due to high demand.

"The city can't have a no-freeze policy," said former city alderman Edward Mattison, a member of the Inside at Night local committee on homelessness. "The no-freeze policy depended on the willingness on the part of the city, as it did last year, to find extra money to pay for whatever extra sheltering was needed."

Last February, the city opened a 31-bed overflow annex at Truman School during a school vacation to alleviate shelter crowding. The city later opened a second winter overflow.

The effort cost the city $41,000, money not available in this year's budget.

Mattison said that, like the city, advocates for the homeless are unsure where the money would come from to run an overflow annex if it is needed this winter.

"To a certain extent, the organizations would like to be able to have a no-freeze policy by providing enough shelter for everybody who needs it, but we can't swear we can do it either, for obvious reasons. We need to raise the money," he said.

Emergency Shelter Management Services, formerly known as the Immanuel Baptist Shelter, laid off two employees after sustaining a 9 percent budget cut, and will not accept more than 75 men per night this year.

While Immanuel Baptist has yet to reach capacity, the overflow on Cedar Street, run by Columbus House, has been as many as 20 men beyond its 75-bed capacity, despite the lack of a no-freeze policy.

"We will continue to take people in," said Columbus House Executive Director Alison Cunningham. "It's very difficult to turn someone away when it's 10 degrees out."

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