NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH)– One program to keep the homeless out of the cold is wrapping up this week, but the effort to get lawmakers to take on homelessness as a state issue continues.
When you think of a warming shelter for the homeless, you probably don’t picture the Wesley Inn & Suites on Washington Avenue in Middletown, but for the past few months, it has been keeping a couple dozen homeless people warm and safe. It was literally a lifesaver for Eduardo Ramos.
“I’ve been homeless for going on six years, and this right here is a big help for me,” Ramos said.
Before the pandemic, Columbus House staffed a Middletown church basement on winter nights to keep folks out of the most dangerous cold. COVID made that impossible. Federal COVID funding meant they could afford something better.
“Using the hotel as the warming center location meant that were open 24 hours a day,” said Columbus House CEO Margaret Middleton. “So, people had access to their room whenever they needed it. They were provided two meals a day.”
Columbus House had to do the same thing at its main shelter in New Haven. They closed it down and moved everybody to a nearby hotel. That is still going on, but the Middletown warming shelter deal ends this week with the warmer weather. State officials toured the motel Tuesday, and they say it was a valuable resource.
“We’re all in this together, and if we didn’t know that before the pandemic, we do now,” said State Senator Matthew Lesser (D-Middletown). “If our neighbors who are homeless are getting sick, that is a public health hazard for the rest of us.”
The city of Middletown and private donations usually pay most of the warming shelter costs, but homeless advocates say it is really a state issue.
“Because of that, it really needs to be funded by the state and not in this piecemeal town-by-town way that really leaves the onus of responding to what is a bigger problem to individual towns,” Middleton said.
While everybody has to be out of the Welset Inn & Suites by Thursday morning, most of the clients of Columbus House are either moving to a different hotel or are on track to be placed in more permanent housing.