During this pandemic, with social distancing guidelines in place it’s been harder than ever for the homeless to find shelter and get much-needed resources.
But there is a police officer in Hartford who has been helping the homeless in Hartford for years.
“Instead of them coming to me, I got to them and I try to boost their morale….every time I’m out here they light up.”
Hartford Police officer Jim Barrett calls his van his mobile workplace. He offers donated shoes, clothing and food to the homeless, and perhaps something even more valuable.
“He offers hope, he offers hope,” explained Time Merchant of Hartford.
Merchant said being homeless changed during the pandemic.
“Right now being homeless, especially with the coronavirus it’s really hard you know?” He said. “A lot of places are closed down, everyone’s hurting, the economy, now the homeless are going to suffer the worst you know.”
Barrett said the homeless numbers in Hartford have increased dramatically during the COVID-19 crisis.
“These guys are the forgotten ones. If they’re not in a shelter, they’re pretty much forgotten," Barrett said.
Barrett hopes to change the destiny of people like 20-year-old Destiny Ryan, who has been homeless for the last five years.
“It’s really difficult, especially when you feel like you have nobody who cares, whose there for you, and then Officer Barrett came out of the blue, was like a guardian angel,” Ryan said.
Barrett said he knows about 850 of Hartford’s homeless population by name, and he loves when people share their success stories, telling him things like this:
“Because of you I got an apartment, I got a job, I’m doing very well,” Barrett listed.
Barrett calls this a regional problem. He said people often migrate from the suburbs, and as far away as New York and western Massachusetts to Hartford for services which may have changed during this crisis.
“With COVID-19 they shutdown the shelters and no there’s nowhere to live,” Shaun Griffin of Hartford explained.
When Griffin was recently released from behind bars, Barrett helped him find temporary shelter in a motel.
“I think COVID-19 might be worse in prison than it is on the streets, ‘cause I don’t know one person who knows a person that has it.”
But as Hartford’s homeless deal with this invisible enemy, they’ve found an old friend in Barrett.
“He’s like a mentor, someone I look up to really. He’s inspirational definitely,” Merchant said.
“I see him out here all time of day and night…if it was up to me he’d get a Nobel peace prize,” Griffin said.