(Updated) If it weren’t for the warming center in the basement of Grace and St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Evelyn doesn’t know where she would have been Monday. Except out in the deadly cold.
“I’m trying to cope; I didn’t have a sweater, I didn’t have warm clothes,” she told the Independent.
Evelyn got a donated sweater, and a safe warm place to stay, at the church on Dixwell Avenue near the corner of Whitney, which this month is hosting Hamden’s first-ever “warming center” as a pilot effort to tackle local homelessness. Update: Late Monday the town announced that it is opening a second round-the-clock temporary warming center for families who have lost power at home.
The Grace & St. Peter’s warming center opened a week ago; only two people showed up.
Then came the first sub-freezing snow and ice storm of the year. By Sunday night, Evelyn and 15 other people were using the center to shelter from the cold. While the center is usually open only from 10 pm to 7 am, it extended hours from Saturday until Tuesday morning because of the storm and the cold snap. (Read more about the warming center here.)
The Town of Hamden is partnering with Columbus House to run the warming center and provide for Hamden’s homeless population, at a series of locations. The town has dedicated $23,000 for the center, which is always staffed by two Columbus House staff members.
Unlike a shelter, a warming center is simply a place where the homeless can go at night to get out of the cold. It does not have beds, and is usually in operation only at night. This weekend’s storm precipitated the decision to stay open continuously through Tuesday.
In addition to homeless people, at least one person whose home lost power showed up at the center Sunday night. As of 5 p.m. Monday, about 800 Hamden residents remained without power, according to a town government release.
At the warming center in Hamden, “they make you feel comfortable,” client Eunice Temple-Adams told the Independent. Other places are not as good, she said: “A lot of them, they dirty and nasty.”
Temple-Adams said she has been homeless since Jan. 6. She was released from prison the day after Thanksgiving after serving six and a half months for violation of probation. She had a voucher for housing, and found a place in Derby. But when she tried to transfer the voucher to her husband, she was told it was only for single use, and that she and her husband (who was also at the warming center Monday morning) had to leave.
She was still at the warming center mid-morning Monday thanks to the extended hours. Usually, when the center closes at 7 a.m., she heads for the Sunrise Cafe in New Haven. Next, she goes to the Taking Initiative Center on Whalley Avenue, where she stays until 3 p.m. From 3-8 p.m., she head to the New Haven Free Public Library, then until 10 pm she stays warm at Union Station. By that point the warming center is open, and she takes the bus back to Hamden.
She said there need to be more warming centers in the New Haven area. She added that there are no overflow shelters for women.
Temple-Adams, who is 52, grew up in New Haven, where she moved when she was 8 days old. She said that she hopes to get help to get a deposit for housing.
Most of the clients at the warming center are homeless, though one 93-year-old woman came Sunday night because her home lost power. Most come from either Hamden or New Haven, though some say they are transient.
Evelyn has been staying at the warming center since it opened last Monday. She had been living in another part of Connecticut at a facility that houses women escaping domestic violence. She had previously lived in New York with a husband who abused her. At the center, she said, encountered a male staff member who harassed her, so she left there, too.
She tried to move to a domestic violence center in New Haven, but it was full. She called 211, and was told to go to the warming center in Hamden.
So far, she’s been pleased.
“This warming center is very exceptional,” she said. “They try to help you any way they can… it’s not over crowded, it’s a good place to sleep at night, I would highly recommend it.
“This place, I really want to give them like a four, five star.”
The main problem is that it’s far from New Haven and hard to get to, she said. She doesn’t have any money for the bus, and the warming center doesn’t provide bus passes.
Evelyn, who is an immigrant from Haiti, had a job as a nurse’s assistant in New York. During the day, she searches for jobs in New Haven so that she can secure an income that will allow her to put a deposit down on an apartment. When she’s not job searching, she goes to a church and prays.
The extended hours allowed Evelyn to stay all day on Sunday; she planned to stay all day Monday as well. But without the extended hours, it’s hard. She said that the other day, she arrived early, so she went to a nearby burrito shop. But in order to stay there, she had to buy a taco, and she didn’t have the money. On Saturday night, when she arrived at 7, she went to the police station across the street; they let her stay there until 10 when the warming center opened.
She added that once she arrives at the warming center, it’s already 10 p.m. and she has to eat, so she can never get to sleep until at least 11. Then she gets up at 6 a.m. so she can leave by 7. It would be helpful if the center opened at 7 or 8 p.m., she said.
The warming center is funded by the Town of Hamden and by private donations. It is also accepting donations of clothing and food.
“There’s been an overwhelming amount of generosity,” said Adam Sendroff, Hamden’s community development manager. He said he has brought “many many bags” over to the warming center full of food, socks, hats, and other goods donated by church groups, individuals, and organizations.
He said he has gotten requests for donations of instant cup noodles, warm beverage cups, and rain ponchos. Donations can be brought to the Keefe Community Center at 11 Pine St.
On Monday morning, Allison Batson came by to make a hot breakfast. She is both a member of the Columbus House board and a Sunday school teacher at Grace and St. Peter’s.
“I’ve been pleasantly and unpleasantly surprised by the number of people that have been here,” she said. “It’s nice that we’re able to be here, it’s unfortunate that this is a thing.”