MERIDEN — The City Council voted this week to form a task force to address local homelessness, a move officials say will help agencies better coordinate and maximize resources.
The 12-member Mayor’s Task Force on Homelessness will be made up of community stakeholders appointed by Mayor Kevin Scarpati.
“It’s something that I think is really needed in this city,” Health and Human Services Director Lea Crown told city councilors at a meeting last month. “We have fantastic nonprofits and partners who are already addressing this, but by having some sort of formalized approach, it will just make that approach that much stronger.”
The idea to form a task force was prompted by discussions about opening a warming center for the 2019-20 winter season. Those talks involved Crown and other stakeholders. After the group couldn’t open the center due to funding and location issues, Crown and others approached Scarpati about establishing the task force, which in addition to exploring a warming center will tackle other homelessness-related issues.
A task force will put Meriden in a better position to receive funding, Crown said.
Scarpati thinks the idea is “long overdue.”
“Instead of turning our backs to this problem and pretending it doesn’t exist, we’re taking it for what it’s worth and recognizing that there is a problem,” he said.
The task force will determine its goals and objectives once it begins meeting, Crown said, and the group will be required to provide quarterly reports to the council. Whether the task force remains permanent or dissolves after meeting its objectives will likely depend on the goals set, according to Crown.
“The ultimate goal would be to end homelessness in our city,” Crown said last month. “I don’t think that’s going to be done overnight, but if we can at least identify some barriers for people in getting certain services or making an intake process a little easier for people or finding out what (homeless people) really do need — and I’m hoping that somebody with (experience being homeless) will be part of the task force...”
While the city doesn’t keep statistics on local homelessness, a 2019 report by the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness recorded 3,033 people, including 588 children, experiencing homelessness in the state on the night of Jan. 22, 2019. The coalition’s annual “point-in-time” survey records numbers of homeless people on a single night in late January to compare with past years. The coalition’s 2018 and 2017 surveys recorded 3,383 and 3,387 homeless people respectively.
The city’s homeless shelter, Shelter NOW on St. Casimer Drive., has bed capacity for 26 single males and 10 single females, along with eight family units that can fit 30-32 individuals depending on the age of the children, according to Crown. The shelter couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday.
A grant-funded warming center pilot project conducted in Meriden a few years back found a warming center set up as an overflow facility provided a total of 1,076 nights of bed and shelter to 121 single men and women who couldn’t get into the shelter. The project tracked data from Nov. 17, 2018, to March 31, 2019.
Meriden in the past has used the Columbus House in Middletown, a collaboration between churches from November through March, as a model in discussions about starting a warming center. In Middletown, the churches take turns opening their doors from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. to offer shelter and hot drinks, although no beds are available.
The goal is to have a warming center opened in time for the 2020-21 winter season, Scarpati said.