NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — The expected frigid temperatures this week are forcing the City of New Haven to activate a warming center to keep its most vulnerable safe. But with COVID-19 regulations in place, it may look a bit different from previous winters.
The concern is keeping people warm and safe amid the pandemic. Emergency Operations officials told News 8 they are operating at about 20% capacity at their warming center on Orange Street.
Rick Fontana heads up the Emergency Operations Center for the Elm City. He said opening the warming center is a risk with COVID, but it’s what’s right with freezing temperatures on the way.
“This is a huge challenge anytime we try and congregate people out of the cold. We know with forecasts we are going to be down in the single digits and we activated our cold protocol which requires us to provide some kind of warming for those with no place to go.”
The warming center on Orange Street was set up with the guidance of the city’s health experts.
Health Director for the City of New Haven Maritza Bond said, “We definitely don’t want individuals to be at an increased risk of potential hazards with the weather conditions…We felt that with the percentage capacity we agreed on and decreasing the percentage allows for a safe number.”
The capacity of space is down significantly this time around to maintain social distancing inside the buildings.
“The occupancy in here on a normal basis would be up to 200, but we are going to have 25 people,” Fontana explained. “The important thing for us is that we’re looking at the risk versus the reward. So if we can keep people inside and out of the cold, it will reap more benefits for those individuals. Not only will we keep them here overnight, but we will also give them food, and we will be able to track them.”
So, for anyone entering, masks will be required along with temperature checks and hand sanitizing before walking in the door.
The city’s severe cold protocol begins Thursday at 5 p.m. and will run through Sunday morning for anyone in need.
“We do have a high homeless population and a lot of them are in hotel rooms and a lot of the hotels are full, so this provides an alternative to staying on the street,” Fontana said.
With capacity at just 20%, Emergency Operations officials say, in the event that the warming center cannot accept any others, the city will arrange for a hotel stay.