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    Monday, May 27, 2024

    As temperatures plummet, New London scrambles to find more space for homeless

    New London — Officials are scrambling to find off-site emergency shelter space for the city’s homeless as life-threatening cold weather continues to hover over the region.

    Cathy Zall, executive director of the Homeless Hospitality Center on State Pier Road, said the facility’s 40-bed main shelter is full and usual overflow space at the adjacent Emmett Jarrett Hospitality Center is also at a premium.

    “Lately, we’re seeing as many as 45 additional people at the (overflow) center,” Zall said on Wednesday. “That means up to 85 people on our campus. We’re handling it now, but what happens if 10 more people show up?”

    Mayor Michael Passero said in past years, the city had quietly been able to secure off-site emergency overflow shelter space during the winter months to help alleviate the crowded conditions at the main center.

    “By this time of year, we’d usually have that space already opened,” he said. “But for a variety of reasons — such as places that could work out were, but were unwilling to share their space — we can’t use them.”

    Those off-sites have largely been located in churches and other worship centers in New London, Zall said. She said a “rare” number of clients with mobility issues can also be housed in hotels when the Jarrett center gets particularly crowded.

    Passero said several potential off-site overflow locations in the city have been suggested, but were not able to be secured.

    “For some reason it’s been incredibly difficult to find spots in city; everything's full up,” Passero said on Wednesday. “We’ve come up with a few other possibilities that we’re going to pursue today.”

    Temperatures In New London aren’t expected to rise above the freezing mark for the remainder of the week, with the mercury predicted to dip as low as 12 degree on Saturday night, according to the National Weather Service.

    Zall said the center is committed to ensuring no one gets turned away even if that means laying mats on the floor or setting up chairs for sleeping.

    “We’ll use every inch of space,” she said.

    Zall attributes the recent spike in need — something she said is being seen as cities and towns across the state, including in Norwich — to a variety of factors, from a lack of affordable housing to an uncertain economy.

    She said the difficulty in finding new overflow shelter space isn’t surprising, especially when it requires proper exits, bathroom facilities and other safety amenities.

    “That’s a hard ask and I understand,” Zall said. “This can be an unpredictable group of people, but having too many people too tightly packed together can create tension.”

    She praised Passero, along with state Rep. Anthony Nolan, D-New London, and state Sen. Martha Marx, D-New London, for their support.

    Marx late Wednesday morning said she tried to broker an agreement with state National Guard leaders allowing the Bayonet Street armory to be used as a temporary overflow space.

    “But I was told it was not suitable for that kind of use,” she said. “It’s so frustrating. It’s not just New London people standing in line to use that New London shelter, but residents from many other towns. And the leaders of those towns should be coming up with solutions, too.”

    Marx said she planned to bring the space issue up with Gov. Ned Lamont later on Wednesday.

    If new space is found, Zall said her group is ready to staff the overflow area.

    “But we can’t turn around on a dime,” she said. “We want to be able to plan appropriately. And it should be remembered even though people worry when it’s 19 degrees out, like this week, it’s also dangerous to be outside overnight when it’s 23 degrees. Or 32 degrees.”

    j.penney@theday.com

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