Advocates worry there won't be enough beds for New London's homeless this winter

New London - A new 25-bed homeless shelter at the former Polish National Church on State Pier Road is on schedule to open in October, but those who work with the homeless fear they will not have enough room to accommodate all their guests this winter.

Cathy Zall, executive director the Homeless Hospitality Center, told the City Council Monday that 50 beds would be needed to keep people off the streets during freezing weather.

"A cap of 25 beds will leave some on the streets," she said. "It will affect neighbors in New London and the surrounding community.

The shelter has a no-freeze policy during cold weather, Zall said, opening its doors to anyone and providing a bed, a chair or just a blanket and pillow.

"We do not want to return to days when the homeless froze," she said.

The center is in the midst of a $1 million renovation project at the former Sts. Peter and Paul Church. The goal, Zall said, is to move all homeless services out of St. James Church, which is located in the city's central business district.

In 2011, the Planning & Zoning Commission granted a special permit for 25 beds at the State Pier site. It also will have a 10-bed respite center for those who are sick or recovering from hospital stays and offices for health care.

The hospitality center had asked for 50 beds at the new location but was granted 25.

Zall asked the City Council's Public Welfare Committee Monday to consider granting a temporary emergency measure starting Nov. 1 to allow 50 beds during the winter. Twenty-five single beds could be bunked at the new location, she said.

She added that she is open to other suggestions, such as opening the police station lobby, a fire house or other public building during severe weather to accommodate overflow.

Four councilors, Wade Hyslop, Anthony Nolan, Donald Macrino and John Maynard pledged to support the temporary expansion if it comes before them for a vote.

"I encounter many people who are homeless on a daily basis," said Hyslop, who is pastor of Trinity Missionary Baptist Church in the city. "You provide a good service and we need to be prepared."

After the meeting, Zall said it was good to hear the council support her efforts.

"This is great,'' Zall said. "I really feel we've tried to work with the city."

In addition to providing night shelter, the center helps homeless find permanent housing. It also provides funds for one-way bus fare home for those who live out of New London County.

"All our efforts are having an impact,'' Zall said. "We have significantly reduced the number of people living in cars, parking garages, under bridges and in unoccupied buildings."

k.edgecomb@theday.com

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