A report released on Thursday by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development finds that it would cost government less to rent permanent housing for the nation’s homeless, than it does to provide them with emergency shelter services. 33,000 people were homeless in CT in 2009. That’s a 20% jump in the past two years. This winter, religious groups in New Haven decided to do something to help. Local congregations invited homeless men out of the cold and into their houses of worship. WNPR’s Diane Orson reports.
42-year old Jerry Norfleet sums up why he’s homeless in 2 words:
He used to work at the Columbus House, an emergency homeless shelter in New Haven. Now he’s a client.
"I messed up, you know but I came back and the same people who I worked with, they still there. And when I look at them and I’m like if they can make it then I can do it this time too, I know I can do it."
Norfleet says one reason he’s so hopeful is the program he’s been involved with for the past 12 weeks. It's called Abraham’s Tent. He and 11 other homeless men have traveled to churches and synagogues. They’ve spent a week at each place, arriving at 6:00 in the evening and staying till 6:00 the next morning. They’ve slept in lobbies, social halls, and Sunday school classrooms.
"I learned there’s people out there who really care. I really didn’t know that people really care like they do. And people coming out of nowhere volunteering to stay with us and help us and hopefully that we can really move up and not down. Because I don’t want to go back to the Columbus House emergency. I don’t want to do that. Hopefully after this is over, I'll get on my feet. Hopefullly that happen for me. I want it to."
At Church on the Rock in New Haven, a room is set up to look like a French bistro. There are checkered cloths on small round tables. Men line up, cafeteria-style and volunteer. Tineya Henry serves them dinner.
"You want some string beans? And then he’ll give you the chicken."
Henry says its an opportunity to help.
"We’re here just to support the community and the efforts that Abraham’s Tent has put forth."
James Roundtree is associate pastor at Church on the Rock. He says sheltering homeless men has been an eye-opener.
"I think we learn a little bit about the person. Sometimes there is, I hate to say a wall, but kind of a wall between the homeless and everyone else. But we’re learning how to pull down that wall brick by brick and piece by piece."
"Its given me kind of a renewed sense of what our own mission is."
Alison Cunningham is executive director of the Columbus House.
"These guys have traveled, 12 men together, over the course of three months and they’ve bonded in a way that they never would in the shelter. It's too big. It's too noisy. There’s too much stuff. People bring all that mess with them there. But here they’ve had to let all that mess go. They protect each other. They sing happy birthday to each other. I actually heard a couple of the guys talking about rooming together in an apartment."
Abraham’s Tent wraps up on Sunday. The men move back into the shelter and out on the street. Cunningham says programs like this should not have to exist in America. But next winter, when the cold temperatures return - and New Haven’s homeless shelters are again filled to capacity – she hopes it does.
For WNPR, I’m Diane Orson.