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    Monday, June 24, 2024

    Tent dwellers a visible segment of New London’s homeless

    Joe Camerino, 37, and Corinna Shorey, 33, shown Monday, April 15, 2024, have been living in a tent near the entrance to Interstate 95 in New London for the past few weeks. (John Penney/The Day)
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    Corinna Shorey, 33, shown Monday, April 15, 2024, has been living in a tent near the entrance to Interstate 95 in New London with a companion for the past few weeks. (John Penney/The Day)
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    New London ― On a grassy incline not far from the entrance to the Gold Star Memorial Bridge on Monday, Joe Camerino and Corinna Shorey walked around the one-person tent they’ve called home for the last few weeks.

    “I’ve been homeless for 17 years, lost a lot of support from people around me,” said Camerino, 37. “I grew up here in New London and just got kicked out of the shelter. And now I’m hearing they want to move us out of here.”

    Camerino and Shorey are part of a small subset of the local homeless population: those living in tents or similar shelters.

    “There’s only a handful of New London’s unsheltered that live in tents, but because of their visibility, they get more attention than the vast majority of homeless people living in cars or in other situations,” said Barbara Montrose, leader of the New London-based Homeless Hospitality Center’s emergency response team.

    Inside the couple’s tent, a sleeping bag was draped over a textured pad crowded with water bottles and a bag of supplies. In a litter-strewn area outside the shelter, a shopping cart was piled high with the rest of the couple’s possessions, including a bag of supermarket rolls, clothes and blankets.

    “If we have to move, everything goes in the cart and we’ll try and find another place to set up,” said the 33-year-old Shorey, a Plainfield native who said she was kicked out of her house more than 10 years ago.

    The couple said they had previously been approached by someone ― they weren’t sure who ― telling them to be prepared to vacate the area.

    “Why can’t they just leave us alone?” Camerino asked. “We’re not criminals. We’re not breaking into houses. We’re just living in a tent.”

    Montrose’s team, which provides homeless outreach, assessments and shelter options, works with city and law enforcement agencies to identify and help those using tents for shelter.

    “We are constantly doing this, and we’ve added evening checks a few nights each week,” Montrose said. “These are our neighbors, our citizens, our community members and they should be cared for.”

    The homeless residents may be offered space in the 40-bed hospitality center on State Pier Road, provided with housing vouchers or connected with relatives willing to take them in.

    Human Services Director Jeanne Milstein on Monday said her office was alerted to the presence of several tents scattered across the city a few weeks ago.

    “There were tents at a couple of locations, but not that many and we’ve gotten most of those folks help,” she said. “This was done in a humane way; no one is just going in and clearing out an area and taking their stuff – that would be inhumane.”

    Milstein noted a small segment of the homeless population has always been leery of shelters and, if given the choice, prefer to sleep outdoors.

    In addition to homeless mitigation specialists, law enforcement representatives from local, state and Amtrak police departments can be called it to assist with the tent residents, depending on where they opt to erect a shelter.

    Police Chief Brian Wright said his officers work closely with shelter “navigators” to assist tent dwellers.

    “It’s more than a law enforcement effort,” he said. “We’re working to bring assets and resources to bear on this problem and to offer options. It’s a multi-faceted issue that’s rarely just about a person not having money. There’re mental and behavioral health pieces and sometimes substance abuse.”

    Milstein described the local homelessness issues as representative of a larger, national housing crisis precipitated by escalating rents, a dearth of affordable housing and an economy still not fully recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Cathy Zall, executive director of the Homeless Hospitality Center, said it’s not unusual to spot the occasional tent up in the city, but it’s not a widespread problem.

    “Usually, these are small encampments with one or two tents,” Zall said. “Many times, we’ll get those people relocated and another tent will pop up again in another place.”

    Zall said most of the city’s homeless are largely invisible, living in cars or couch-surfing at a friendly residence.

    “But people notice a tent,” she said. “And even if the people in tents represent just a tiny number of our homeless, it triggers the public’s perception.”

    Back at their camp site ― located within view of the Homeless Hospitality Center ― Camerino and Shorey prepared to leave their tent for a bit, with Shorey heading down to a nearby intersection to panhandle for money or food.

    As they spoke, a pair of new arrivals crested the hill and began examining a nearby plot of grass. Rafael Oquendo, a former Hartford resident, said he and his wife planned to put up a small tent at the site.

    Oquendo said he left the hospitality center after its emergency winter shelter closed a couple of months ago.

    “We had a few dollars and used that for a hotel,” he said. “Now, the money’s gone. We don’t have options or choices.”


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