Shelter Believes Help from Churches could “Rid” City of Homelessness

Sara J Dufort

In any city, there are citizens that are homeless and looking for a place to stay warm during the coldest months of the year. It is a problem that plagues every urban area, as there is never enough space or beds to accommodate all those who are suffering from severe poverty.

In New Haven, one shelter is trying to change this by encouraging local churches to increase their support of shelters, and perhaps incorporate their own shelter as a part of their mission.

Emergency Shelter Management Services Inc., previously known as Immanuel Baptist Shelter, is the oldest and largest black church in New Haven and believes that it is their spiritual and moral duty to lend a giving hand to those who are poor and disadvantaged.

“Our shelter is the only black shelter in the city, and at last count, there are 44 shelters in the state,” executive director Holmes said. “We have to raise $30,000 each year to keep our contract with the city to make sure we do our part with assisting the homeless population.”

The problem is that one shelter is not going to be able to house all those that are homeless. In 2011, New Haven had more than 600 people who identified themselves as homeless, including 251 school-aged children. While there is another overflow shelter operated by the Columbus House, it still only has a capacity of 75 people.

While Emergency Shelter Management Services believes that churches need to do more to address the problem of homelessness in New Haven, other churches, including mosques and Islamic centers, are acting within their means to address the crisis.

“This time of year we do collect food and we donate to the local food banks, and because we are so visible within the community, folk come to our church and we provide whatever food or assistance we can,” said Jean Bowen, chairperson of the Deacon Board at Dixwell Congregation United Church of Christ. While they are seriously thinking about opening their own shelter, they said that sometimes finances do not permit them to do so.

Other churches and mosques are also having these problems. President of the board at Masjid Al-Islam on George Street said that they have been working with the Columbus House for over 25 years by donating coats, hats and gloves, but he also stated that they do not have the resources to provide shelter. This mosque is not the only one that is suffering from a financial burden, and many other churches also indicated that while they try to provide for the homeless, they do not have the means to give them shelter.

However, due the mounting problem of homelessness in New Haven, the city has collaborated with more than 12 churches to start a program called “Abraham’s Tent.” This will allow the churches to host up to 25 people for a week instead of indefinitely. This will be less of a financial burden on the churches, but still allow them to help those who are homeless. In addition, one church leader said, “I’m open to make that connection with the shelter and provide any assistance that’s needed.” He added, “Awareness and open dialogue is key for all of us to aid the needs of the entire community life.”

In the coming winter months, Marshall Brooks stated that three city-funded shelters would be operational. This includes Emergency Management System, Life Haven, and Martha’s Place. Life Haven is a shelter for homeless, pregnant women and women with young children. They have the capacity to serve 20 families at a time. In addition, Martha’s place is a shelter for 24 single women with children under the age of 18. They have a minimum 60-day initial stay that can be extended up to five months if needed.

In addition to the homeless adults, the 251 schoolchildren that are homeless also need help. Susan Weisselberg, director of wraparound services for the school district, said support services that address needs of homeless children are offered through a partnership with New Haven Home Recovery. Those services include making sure they have access to meals, school supplies, clothing or a school uniform. “No child should have to experience what it’s like to be without a home or to come to school hungry,” she said.

While homelessness is a serious problem in New Haven, local churches and organizations are doing all that they can to rid the city of this problem. With additional churches doing their best to help others, there is no doubt that this goal could one day be accomplished.