NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH)– The pandemic has a lot of people spending a lot more time at home, but what about people who don’t have a home? For much of the last year, a hotel room has been home for Jose Osorio.
“It’s real nice. It was a big, big change, and safer, much safer,” Osorio said.
Much safer than the homeless shelter where he had been living. Columbus House put up plexiglass barriers in some rooms in its New Haven shelter. They hung curtains in others, but it just was not enough.
“Having people sleep in big, congregate spaces isn’t safe for any of us because it’s a great way to pass around diseases,” explained Columbus House CEO Margaret Middleton.
“I was really worried because there was too many people gathered together and obviously I have family and I was worried about catching it,” said Osorio.
So the shelter essentially moved to a nearby hotel. It is nicer than the shelter, and definitely nicer than where Lisa Steves had been living.
“I was living in a tent in the woods,” Steves explained. “I really don’t want to get COVID, especially with the new strains that are coming out.”
Nobody wants the clients to get COVID, so Columbus House kept them in the hotel rooms for months. They tried to bring them back to the shelter, but rising COVID numbers sent them back to the hotel. Almost 200 people are still living there.
Columbus House could afford to put a couple hundred people in hotels because of a big influx of pandemic-related federal funding. But that’s not the only thing that money paid for. Columbus House was also able to get more than 450 households out of the shelter system entirely and into permanent housing.
Maybe you remember Ikea donating thousands of dollars in home furnishings last spring. A lot of that went to apartments newly occupied by the formerly homeless. Now they’re trying to make sure they can stay there.
“We are working really hard with people to get them into employment situations, to get them social security benefits, and other things that will help them maintain their apartments,” Middleton said.
Back at the hotel, folks took a step closer to pandemic safety recently when they got their first round of COVID vacations.
‘The sooner we get the vaccine, the sooner everything will go back to normal and probably even improve to a better tomorrow,” Osorio said. “I know what we’ve been going through is rough, but I always see the bright light, what’s ahead, you know? The light at the end of the tunnel, like they say.”
Nobody knows how many more tomorrows he is going to spend at the hotel, but Osorio remains optimistic.