Woman experiencing homelessness speaks out on census of homeless population

New Haven

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — An effort is underway in Connecticut to gather a census of the homeless population.

A member of the homeless community spoke to News 8 to explain why getting an accurate count will be a difficult challenge.

“I live in a tiny little camper shell. I call it one size up from a coffin,” said Mary Elizabeth Schipke.

Related: “Point-in-time” count takes place across CT, allows communities to assess number of homeless

Meet Meriden native Mary Elizabeth Schipke. She might not look like the face of homelessness. She spends days in a library and nights on a hospital mattress inside a truck named King Arthur.

“I have a little Mr. Heater in there so I do not freeze to death,” said Schipke.

The disabled 62-year-old suffers from chronic illness. A roughly $700 monthly disability benefit isn’t enough to get her out of this vehicle.

She’s not alone.

“You know who’s homeless because you can see them. You can look at the vehicle and go ‘homeless, homeless, homeless.’ They have a lot of stuff in their front seat and a lot of times they have the shades up to get some privacy,” said Schipke

Mary won’t tell us where she parks at night.

“You would have to beat the bushes to find me,” said Schipke.

She says she’s been run out of public and private parking lots across Connecticut. She’s been living this way for a decade. She blames a broken system that has failed to divert billions dedicated to homelessness on actually building homes.

“Why can’t we take micro-units like the Japanese do and put them on wheels and have mobile public housing units,” said Schipke.

Overnight Tuesday, volunteers turned out across Connecticut in places like the New Haven Green. It’s part of an annual count of the homeless population.

“We have really good data on people who come to homeless shelters and use homeless shelters. For people who sleep outside our data is not as good,” said Richard Cho, Executive Director Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness.

Richard Cho is executive director of an organization overseeing the count and connecting homeless people with solutions.

Last year there were an estimated 3,000 people experiencing homelessness in Connecticut. Engaging people like Mary is an area the coalition is working on improving.

“I think the solution is how do we better tap the housing that’s already out there, close that affordability gap, but also increase the stock of affordable housing,” said Cho.

Cho says homelessness could happen to any of us.

“Those of us who work and we live paycheck to paycheck. It doesn’t take much in terms of a medical crisis or some other tragedy to lead us into a path of homelessness,” said Cho.

If you are experiencing homelessness, you can call 2-1-1 to be connected with services.

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