Activists Call for Changes to Hartford's Overnight Warming Center

Hartford City Council members are looking into increasing funding for the city's overnight warming center to change the current setup.

Improve the conditions at Hartford’s warming center. That’s what some community activists are calling for, and city council members are looking into increasing funding to make that happen.

“There are many things we go through as homeless people. There’s sadness and denial and anger and sometimes you lose hope,” said Pamela Mitchell.

Back in March, Mitchell became homeless. Before she got a bed at a shelter, she stayed at Hartford’s warming center at Willie Ware and says it wasn’t ideal. Those who go to the center sit in a chair with the lights on the entire night.

“If a woman did find a space to sleep on the floor, she was made to get up,” said Mitchell.

A resolution sponsored by Councilman Larry Deutsch is looking to make a change. He’s hoping to take $200,000 out of surplus funds to move the center to a bigger location and turn it into a warming shelter, with increased staff, food, showers, and cots.

“How would you like to sit in a chair all night upright with 40 or 50 people?” said Deutsch.

The city says the overnight warming center keeps people out of the dangerous cold, but it’s not a substitute for the shelter system. It adds that the chair model, which other cities use, allows them to serve many more people in the space they have. Over the last few years, it’s run daily from December to March. The city says it’s the only one like it in the region, which explains why last year a third of those who used it were from outside Hartford.

But those who came to Monday night’s council committee meeting say the warming shelter is so uncomfortable that some decide to risk the cold.

While Mitchell doesn’t believe cots are the answer, she thinks increased training for staff would make a huge difference. Members of the public who spoke at the meeting agree that something needs to change.

“I think if action is not taken now that there is no possible way that people will not end up sleeping outside this winter,” said Center Church Director of Outreach Logan Singerman.

The funding resolution passed out of committee and now goes to the whole council for approval.

The city will soon announce its plans for the warming center this winter.

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