Subzero Chill Drives The Chilled Into The Stacks

Aliyya Swaby PhotoLinwood Garland went to the New Haven Public Library as temperatures dropped well below freezing again Monday to read some books, “stay warm and be at peace”—and because he had nowhere else to go.

Garland joined others who, for various reasons, took advantage of the heating system and spacious reading spaces at the 133 Elm St. main branch as Monday brought temperatures in the low 20s, to drop below zero by midnight. The city has seen an unusually long sub-zero cold front this winter and activated several warming centers in five libraries as well as Union Station, to prevent those without housing from sleeping outside in dangerous conditions.

The city has had its severe cold policy in effect continuously since Feb. 1, according to emergency management chief Rick Fontana.

“This is the coldest weather the region has seen in many years,” Fontana said. The policy takes effect when the wind-chill temperature falls below 18. “We’ve gotten a break here and there for one day,” but not long enough to stop keeping the warming centers open, he said. About 75-100 people have been staying in homeless shelters overnight, he said; this weekend 38 were staying at the overnight (10 p.m. to 7 a.m.) warming center at Church on the Rock on Hamilton Street.

During the day, the libraries have helped fill the gap.

Staffer John Jessen said the number of people stopping by the library often changes by the hour, depending on what the temperature is outside, whether homeless shelters are open, and whether those shelters have space.

Garland is homeless. Seven years ago, he said, he was abusing drugs and alcohol. He checked himself into an inpatient rehabilitation program for eight months, got clean and “never looked back.” He said he wishes there were more opportunities available for people who can and want to work—“responsible people” like him. Jobs are “very selective,” and stay in the same circles of people in power, he said.

Now he is a regular at the library, where he uses the computers, keeps up with current events and explores new books. He spends quality time with his “lady friend,” who is also homeless. Garland read a couple of books recently that surprised him—about African and Native American art, made from natural materials. “I didn’t think you could do so much with nature,” he said. He planned to go to the overflow shelter on Howard Avenue when it opened at 4 p.m.

Some regulars just needed the library for a short period of time, defrosting in between commitments. One man flipped through a graphic novel at a table by himself. He said the library was a free, warm place to pass the time between shifts at his job on Temple Street, instead of heading home.

David Zimmerman worked through several tax and bank forms with the help of pamphlets he found at the library. He proclaimed himself unaffected by the weather—“I don’t worry about the cold, because I was in the military. I was in the National Guard.” Originally from Waterbury, he said he is staying with friends in New Haven as he travels through Connecticut this month.

Others wanted the space, not necessarily the books. Arturo Lopez sat looking out of the library’s front windows at the Green as the sun reflected brightly off the snow. He said he was one of several in the library who were waiting until Emergency Shelter Management Services on Grand Avenue made its beds available at 4 p.m.

Lopez said he is not usually at the library, but he was driven in by the icy winds.

“It’s cold outside. It’s really cold outside,” he said, shaking his head. He took a bus from Westville Monday afternoon, arrived at the library around 1 p.m., and planned to walk around a bit outside before heading to the shelter.

“Cuando esta bueno, ando por alli” (“When it’s nice outside, I walk around there”), he said, pointing and moving his arm in a circle toward the Green. “But it’s too cold.”

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posted by: THREEFIFTHS on February 23, 2015  9:05pm

How come the city or state can not open up the Goffe Street Armory and put the homeless in the Armory.To my homeless brothers and Sister,How many of you went door to door for Dan Malloy During election time.It is election time for the mayor this year.Tell you what.Next time the judas goat pinocchio political party hacks come to you and tell you to help us with the election,Tell them get me a apartment first and then maybe I will help you.

posted by: wendy1 on February 24, 2015  12:11am

So far all talk, no action from anyone.

When I saw a young man refused at Grand Ave. shelter (7PM, 18 degrees, snowing) I called the city gov. and the press——no response although I did get a callback from FOXCT.

Warming centers close at 8PM…and then what??  I have met men kicked out of Yale ER and our grand hospital wont allow homeless to sleep in the lobby which is gigantic.  The shelters are run privately and have very specific rules and behavior which is why many avoid them.

I gave a speech 2 weeks ago offering the city a cheap way out—-use viable old empty buildings, renovate the interiors using local minority run contractors and volunteer help like me and provide multiple small apts. using fed.$$.  I submitted a list of a dozen great old buildings on the market at discount prices.  I met with the contractors.  I spoke to 2 owners and 2 owner reps.

Other towns and cities have provided homeless housing and we must, too.  We must speak up for the helpless.  I live in Wooster Sq., bought in when it was cheap.  This spring all the VIP’s will be there.  I need people to join me when I speak truth to power at the Cherry Blossom Festival.  Stand up with me before these 1%‘s and demand homeless housing ASAP.  Yes we have cherry blossoms for a week but people sleeping there year round.

posted by: AJENT3 on February 24, 2015  11:32am

@Wendy 1. I can’t tell you what you did or did not see, but NOBODY has been turned away from the Grand Ave shelter. This winter we have allowed everyone into our facility. Now if someone decides that they don’t want to follow the rules that are put in place to create a safe environment and decide to leave we have no control over them. We can not make someone stay. So before you start spreading untruths please check your facts. This is not the first time that I have witnesses statements made by you that are not true.

posted by: wendy1 on February 24, 2015  12:26pm

AJ—-I saw what I saw and I heard what I heard.  Are you a shelter resident or shelter management?  I did hear Howard Ave was safer and better run than Grand Ave (from a homeless man who held a job but remained homeless).

posted by: Adam on February 24, 2015  7:17pm

I lived at the Grand Ave Shelter during the brutal temperature winter of 2013-14. I know from personal experience that AJ has never denied entrance to anyone when the temperatures are extreme. I was allowed in several times well after midnight. Unless you are extremely intoxicated, and/or belligerant to staff or clients, you will get a bed in these temps