MERIDEN — U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal stopped by the New Beginning shelter, formerly Shelter NOW, Friday morning to explore the recent renovations and greet residents as temperatures dropped rapidly.
Blumenthal asked questions about the St. Casimir Drive facility, including the new family living spaces and the overflow beds.
"I am really heartened and encouraged to see this kind of facility that's been renovated, expanded in number but also made really humane and welcoming,” he said. “The warmth here, it's not just a physical temperature."
Following his visit, Blumenthal joined fellow Democrats Gov. Ned Lamont and U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy to announce an $18 million federal grant at a news conference in New Haven. The grant is designed to address homelessness by bolstering resources and investing in permanent supportive housing.
“Stable housing is not only critical for the development of safe communities, but it is a moral imperative. We have an obligation to ensure that everyone has access to a safe and stable place to call home,” Lamont said in a statement announcing the grant. Arctic blast
Blumenthal spoke about the incoming cold front while visiting the shelter.
“We are at a point of maximum peril, in bone-chilling, frigid weather that literally could freeze people to death or create conditions of frostbite and other real health hazards," he said.
According to the National Weather Service, an arctic blast is set to hit the Northeast from Friday to Sunday. The cold front also brings dangerous wind chills that could drop as low as -30 degrees throughout the state.
The weather service predicts that Friday night temperatures will dip below -3 degrees with wind chill values between -15 and -25 degrees and gusts as high as 44 mph in Meriden. The weather service predicts Saturday will be warmer as the temperature reaches 19 degrees and will reach 42 degrees by Sunday. However, the city will continue to experience extreme winds with gusts as high as 28 mph through Sunday.
New Beginning opened its six to eight overflow beds where unsheltered people can wait out the arctic blast as part of the state’s Severe Cold Weather Protocol announced Monday, said shelter Director Nichelle Hilton.
Once the protocol ends on Sunday, she said individuals using the overflow can't stay during the day but are welcome to return in the evenings.
Hilton explained that the shelter is at total capacity, with 72 residents, and the extra beds are available on a first-come, first-serve basis. She added that 20 residents are staying in nearby hotels.
Despite the programs in place, Hilton said that shelters need more money to support their residents and admit new ones while providing high-quality care.
About 582,500 people nationwide experienced homelessness on a single night in 2022, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Of them, six of every 10 reported staying in sheltered locations like emergency shelters and transitional housing, while four in 10 were unsheltered.
The Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness identified 2,594 people experiencing homelessness across the state on a single night in 2021.
"We have a crisis of homelessness here," Hilton said. "This shelter does not have enough beds to (address) homelessness in the city of Meriden."Federal funding
Lamont announced Friday that Connecticut will receive approximately $6 million annually from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development over the next three years.
Connecticut is one of 46 communities chosen nationwide to participate in the housing department's first round of grants and vouchers, totaling $315 million.
State funds will be administered by the Department of Housing and the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services and directed towards access to resources, creating more permanent transitional housing and hiring more outreach workers.
"We are in the midst of a housing crisis in Connecticut. Rents are sky high, people can't afford homes and now more than ever we need to recognize that long-term solutions are permanent housing, affordable rents," Blumenthal said.
The Department of Housing plans to invest $6 million in the state's new regional hubs, which were created by the Lamont administration in late 2022 and act as access points for individuals who are homeless.
Meanwhile, the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services’ focus is on improving homeless outreach services and hiring more outreach workers to help identify people in need. It also plans on applying the funds to provide approximately 40 rental assistance vouchers and supportive services to house unsheltered individuals immediately.
"This $18 million in federal funding is a lifeline," said Blumenthal. "As temperatures drop to dangerous levels in Connecticut today, too many people are still struggling to find shelter in our state. These critical funds will be transformative and will no doubt help many vulnerable people at the time when they need it most."
‘One day at a time’
Anthony Esposito arrived at the New Beginning overflow on Monday after being discharged from the hospital while also recovering from bronchitis and an alcohol detox.
The army veteran was trying to figure out the bus routes that could take him to the Berlin car impound.
Esposito explained that he was developing cataracts and while on the road was suddenly blinded by the sun. He drove his car into a guardrail. His car was taken to an impound lot in Berlin following the accident with all his belongings inside.
"If I still had my car, I'd be fine. Now everything's gone because of the stupid car accident," he said.
On top of losing the car, Esposito said he was recently divorced, arrested and lost his job. He also needs to pay a $187 ticket from the police before they suspend his license.
Although he doesn't know his exact next steps, Esposito plans getting to the impound and keeping warm at New Beginning for as long as possible. He said the owner of the impound waived the daily $26 fee on the car. However, it's only a matter of time before the vehicle is repossessed.
Esposito added that he has a triage appointment at Meriden's Rushford location on Feb. 10. He hopes he could have stable housing, warm food and addiction recovery support there.
"I'll just try and find new ideas from other people and just try to get the things done one day at a time,” he said.
If you need assistance finding shelter or a warming center, call the state’s 2-1-1 help line.
Reporter Cris Villalonga-Vivoni is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Support RFA reporters at the Record-Journal through a donation at https://bit.ly/3Pdb0r. For more on RFA go to www.reportforamerica.org/.