The director of a New Haven homeless shelter rushed to the hospital emergency room at 1:30 a.m. Thursday—not for a medical problem, but to help deal with an influx of homeless people jamming the waiting area.
The scene took place at Yale-New Haven Hospital’s York Street emergency wing.
The city has been working hard to make sure no one freezes to death during the frigid cold wave this week. Cops have been assigned citywide to check spots where homeless people often rest to make sure no one’s exposed to potentially deadly overnight temperature.
Officials anticipated that during especially cold nights, homeless people declining to enter the city’s emergency shelters would end up visiting the hospital’s emergency waiting room to get warm.
By 1:30 a.m. some 11 people were there, according to Alison Cunningham, director of the Columbus House shelter. The hospital called people from Columbus House in to help figure out how to deal with the situation.
Yale-New Haven moved the people to a room across the street, at 15 York, Cunningham said. They kept warm the rest of the night, sitting on chairs, watching TV. Cunningham said she spoke with them about why they hadn’t gone to the city’s shelters.
“Everybody’s story is a little different,” she said. Some people “flat out refuse to go to an emergency shelter.”
After Cunningham left at 3 a.m., another “five or six” people showed up seeking shelter, she reported.
Officials from the hospital, Columbus House, the police department, and City Hall had been talking about how to handle the expected influx. They haven’t yet arrived at a complete answer, Cunningham said.
“We are all working together,” she said.
The city is keeping Union Station, which usually closes at 1 a.m., open all night during the cold snap so people with nowhere else to go can stop there. Police are stationing an officer there.
Seven people ended up using Union Station overnight to stay warm, according to acting city social services chief Ron Manning.
The hospital is not considered the ideal place for housing homeless people, especially in the midst of trying to deal with medical emergencies. But Yale-New Haven is not throwing anyone onto the street in the cold, said spokesman Mark Dantonio.
He issued this statement on behalf of the hospital: “On an average, [Yale-New Haven] offers shelter to between 10-20 people. We offer this because we’re a good partner to the city, and if they call asking us for assistance, because we are good neighbors, we work on cooperating with the city’s emergency management folks to assist when needed in special circumstances like last night’s extreme cold and the extreme weather we have experienced over the past several weeks. We don’t advertise ourselves as an official city shelter but we do answer the call from the city when asked—as best we can—provided it doesn’t affect our ability to care for emergency patients. The city always initiates this request and we always do our best to do what we can.”
“The real problem is that the shelters are full,” Cunningham said. She said that even when all beds are occupied, Columbus House has made room in waiting areas for people to get out of the frigid cold overnight. Manning said the Immanuel Baptist shelter on Grand Avenue has increased its census for now too.
“It’s not so much the snow now. It’s the cold weather,” Manning said. “We will make sure we do the best we can” to keep people safe.