Linwood 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.”