NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — A vacant New Haven school has received approval to be used to help the homeless this winter.

As winter approaches, city officials in New Haven are addressing the homeless crisis and making an effort to help this growing population find a safe place to stay. 

This week, the board of education voted in favor of making the empty Strong Elementary School building on Orchard Street into a temporary warming shelter starting on Dec. 1.

According to city leaders, as of September 2023 there were 561 homeless individuals in the city, which includes 235 families with children and 15 couples.

“After the pandemic we saw an increase in evictions and displacements – our numbers just ballooned,” said Velma Gorg, New Haven’s coordinator for homelessness.

Sherrod Burroughs, who lives across the school, said there’s often people experiencing homelessness around the neighboorhood.

“They have not used the building for a long time, so I think it would be right for it to be a homeless shelter,” Burroughs said.

News 8 spoke with a woman named Nicki, who said she is on the verge of becoming homeless and is struggling. 

“I recently came out of jail,” Nicki said. “I’m trying to find a job. It’s just tough, especially in my situation. I haven’t been homeless or have a history of it.”

City officials are actively working to give people faced with housing insecurity – the support and services they need. The city recently purchased the Days Inn Hotel on Route 80 to convert it into a shelter.

“We did a lot of work this year to increase the capacity in the number of beds and safe spaces that we have for people,” said Carlos Sosa-Lombardo, New Haven’s executive director of community resilience. 

New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker said the issue points to a bigger need in the city.

“In addition to providing emergency housing – shelters and warming centers — we need more housing, period,” he said. “And in particular, more affordable housing.”

After some renovations, the school building will be open from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. It is available to adults on a first-come, first-served basis until April.