Duo Steers 19 Homeless Off Street, Into Cots

Thomas MacMillan PhotosWith homeless shelters full and Hurricane Sandy bearing down on New Haven, Kenny Driffin and Peter Cox prowled the streets, bringing people inside and out of the elements.

Driffin (pictured), of Columbus House, and Peter Cox, a staffer at Connecticut Mental Health Center, spent Monday morning bringing people to the city’s emergency hurricane shelter at Career High School.

Driffin roamed the city in a grey Toyota Sienna minivan, pulling over to call out to men with hoods pulled up, backpacks slung over their shoulders.

They were able to convince many of them to accept a ride to Career High on Legion Avenue, where the city has set up its main Hurricane Sandy emergency shelter.

In preparation for the hurricane, the city called for the mandatory evacuation of shoreline areas in Morris Cove, City Point, and Fair Haven by 8:30 a.m. Monday morning. Public schools are closed Monday and Tuesday.

Driffin said all the homeless shelters in town were already filled up Monday morning. (They’re staying open during the day for the storm.) By 12:30 p.m., he and Cox—who had once lived on the streets themselves—had brought 19 homeless people into Career.

Maggie Targove, the city’s deputy director of emergency management, said 33 people were in the shelter as of 12:30 p.m. She said she expects more to come in as the storms builds intensity. The 33 included the already-homeless people escorted by Driffin and Cox as well as people who had to leave their homes because of the storm.

Cots were set up in the school’s gym. Three nurses manned a health care station, and an animal control officer was on hand to see about cats and dogs people were bringing in.

The shelter also has a “quiet room,” and an “art room” for kids, Targove said.

Targove urged people to make their way to the shelter as soon as possible. “We want people to come in.”

“Not The Best Time” For Raking

“Some people don’t want to come in,” Driffin said as he and Cox headed out into the blowing wind after dropping four men off at the shelter.

On Audubon Street, Driffin pulled over the van and hailed a man named Gary, in a brown knit hat and khaki canvas coat, with a band aid on his face.

“It’s going to be real bad, man,” Cox said. He urged Gary to get in the van.

“I’ve got to go rake leaves,” Gary said.

“This might not be the best time,” Cox said.

Gary wouldn’t budge. Driffin gave him his phone number and asked him to call later for a ride.

At the corner of State and Chapel, a strong gust of wind rocked the minivan.

“It’s going to get crazy,” Driffin said. “That’s what people don’t understand.”

At Chapel and Temple, Driffin spotted a man in all black, toting a tattered backpack. He convinced him to take a ride to the shelter.

“Yo! My man!” Driffin shouted, spotting another man with the telltale marks of homelessness: stoop-shouldered, hood cinched tight, overstuffed daypack on his back.

That man, Paul, climbed into the van.

“It’s very charitable,” he said. “I was going to sit down here by the parking garage, but that’s kind of hard.”

Dropping those two men at Career, Driffin and Cox headed back out.

“I’m Not A Rapist”

Later, after dropping the two man at Career, Driffin swung by Columbus House on Ella T. Grasso Boulevard to pick up Bonnie Grenier (at right in photo) and Camille Ayala (center right). Grenier said she and Ayala have been camping out by West River for the last 10 years.

They just come from Waterbury, where they had been staying at Grenier’s brother’s house. They started walking down Route 69 from Waterbury, to get to their methadone treatment in New Haven.

“A drunk driver picked us up,” Grenier said. “The first thing he said was, ‘I’m not a rapist.’”

Driffin pointed the minivan up the Boulevard, driving past the holiday tree parked on a trailer by the side of the road. Grenier recalled Tropical Storm Irene, when a tree had fallen on her tent.

Shelter For Shorty-Poo

Back at Career, more people were filtering in. Targove said it was a mix of families and previously homeless individuals. And pets.

Tom Evans was there with his fiancee and her cat, Buster, who was meowing quietly from a crate on the floor.

Adrienne Goodson wheeled in on a motorized chair with a crate on her lap. Inside was her 3-year-old Pomeranian, Shorty-Poo. She said she’d come from her apartment on Front Street, where

“The water’s coming up!” Goodson said.

She said she hadn’t been able to find her cat, Kit, before she left. But she said she wasn’t worried, because Kit can climb on top of the refrigerator when the water rises.

Meanwhile, Driffin and Cox headed back out, where the wind and rain were picking up, to find more people looking for shelter.

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