There were 2,000 people in homeless shelters at the beginning of the pandemic, but COVID-19 forced shelters to reduce capacity and use hotel rooms to socially distance. But advocates are looking for more permanent solutions.
“At this current point in time, I literally live under the bridge going from Hartford to East Hartford,” Amber Otero said.
NBC Connecticut met Otero panhandling in downtown Hartford.
“It almost makes you want to go to jail,” Otero said.
“Just to get 90 days worth of jail time because there’s food, there’s warm, there’s showers," she added.
Otero said she applied for shelter space in April and she was recently accepted.
“And they told me I would still have to wait up to another two months and at that point it will be December,” Otero said.
Richard Cho, CEO of the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness, said decompressing shelters at the beginning of the pandemic meant moving people to hotels. Now it means finding people more permanent housing.
“We now have a greatly reduced shelter population. We went from over 2,000 in March, as of the end of August there were only 741 people in shelters,” Cho said.
That sounds like good news, but the number of new shelter enrollees has declined by over 60%. The number of people who continue to seek shelter has remained unchanged and winter is coming.
“We actually don’t have a great answer right now for what’s going to happen,” Cho said.
He said it’s a dilemma.
“How do we keep people safe from COVID but also safe from the elements and the cold?” Cho said.
The Department of Housing said it had about 825 hotel rooms at the height of the pandemic. It’s down to about 225 in four hotels.
“We feel confident that we will be able to at least provide the same number of shelter space or shelter beds that we did last winter,” Steve Dilella, director of individual and family support at the Department of Housing, said.
That means for the moment hotel space will continue to be utilized. And it’s unknown if the homeless population has increased as a result of the pandemic. The next count of unsheltered individuals will happen this winter.
“We knew we had to get folks out of the hotels and that’s what we’ve been actively working on for the last three months,” David Rich, executive director of Supportive Housing Works, said.
The goal was to find 1,000 people permanent housing before the state contracts with hotels expired.
Between June 1 and September 30 1,099 people were connected to housing.