Warming Shelters Prepare for COVID-19 Changes

The Windham Region No Freeze Project will have to cut their capacity in half to accommodate social distancing.

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With colder nights on the horizon, area warming shelters are preparing to open under COVID-19 restrictions.

The Windham Region No Freeze Project will reopen for the season on Nov. 1. The shelter usually warms 30 to 40 people a night. However, this year, the team has to worry about protecting people from the elements and from COVID-19. With dividers in between beds and top bunks out of commission for social distancing, they will be operating at half capacity. Their nightly maximum will be 15 people.

"One thing that is going to be very hard is how my staff is going to have to turn away guests," said Avery Lenhart, who leads the Windham Region No Freeze Project. "People who are out in the cold and we say I am sorry we have no room. We have never done that. We have always had overflow space.”

The ultimate goal for the team at the shelter, working with the homelessness response system in Connecticut, is to get people housed. Lenhart explained, though, that even finding permanent housing is difficult right now.

"We get them connected and we can get them into housing if there are apartments available," said Lenhart.

The team is working to find overflow space for the shelter this season. They are asking faith communities with space to step up to help if they can. Anyone who might be able to help is asked to contact windham.nofreeze@gmail.com.

"How can we continue to provide services for as many people as need them? That is our big question," said Lenhart.

The Windham region is not alone in the challenge. The City of New London has been working with the Homeless Hospitality Center to find more warming shelter space.

"We want to make sure that people are not freezing on the streets. We are actively looking for options," said Jeanne Milstein, director of Human Services for New London. "We want to make sure that all of our neighbors, no matter what the circumstances are, are protected."

Warming shelters will be equipped with hand sanitizer, masks and room for distancing.

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