Where to get warm when there’s no place to go
By Nathan Fox
Winter: The most wonderful time of the year. Whether it be the holiday gifts, loved ones, hot cocoa, or beautiful snowy days, there’s something about winter in New England that just can’t be beat.
Summer has its perks, but the holiday spirit and the promise of turning over a new year injects a level of excitement that is unmatched during our 3 lesser seasons. And speaking of excitement, don’t forget the sparkling new ice-skating rink that graced the fields of Bushnell Park for the past 2 months. Hartford, how far you’ve come.
But as we walk through this winter wonderland, let’s stop a moment to consider what life is like for many people in the Hartford area. Like most things in life, the other side isn’t nearly as much fun to think about, but in the other spirit of the holidays, namely peace on earth, goodwill to all, you know – THOSE things – it’s also the most appropriate time to consider.
For starters, being broke and homeless during the most overwhelmingly loving, consumer-oriented period of the year can’t be easy. While most of Greater Hartford is running around buying and exchanging gifts with their friends and families, people who are homeless are usually left out of these traditions. When our homeless friends do receive gifts, it’s often from a local non-profit, church, or shelter, not from a brother or sister. And it’s certainly not from the comfort of a living room oozing with holiday splendor.
As if exclusion from these activities wasn’t bad enough, consider this: Winter is (obviously) also the coldest time of the year. For most of us, this means bundling up a little more, warming up our car 5 minutes longer than usual, and the occasional shoveling job to undo mother nature’s charm. This year, she’e been quite charming. But for people who are homeless, winter means exposure to the wickedest of the elements.
Every night, due to a shortage of suitable and affordable housing, or even shelter beds, a number of our residents are forced to sleep outdoors with little to no protection from the cold. This is a tragedy and a growing crisis, one that we must take seriously as a community so that none of our residents are turned away from our shelters. Fortunately, Hartford’s numerous housing programs and shelters provide enough beds for a vast majority of residents who are homeless, helping to insulate them from the cold. But what do these individuals and families do during the day?
Most shelters operate on a 12 hour basis; people are allowed to enter at 7pm, and they are forced to leave around 7am. This then means that from 7am until 7pm, people exiting shelters must find somewhere to go, which usually converges with their need to stay warm. We’ll call this the 7-to-7 dilemma.
During winter, the daytime existence for this group consists of a patchwork of programs, churches, and local “hotspots.” The downtown public library is at the center of many peoples’ daily travels, as it is an ideal location to get out of the cold, but even it has it’s short-comings, with it’s 10am openingtime leaving many to wander the streets for 2 hours each morning.
In the end, no day program, library, soup kitchen, or church basement can replace the warmth and comfort of a home or a job. So the next time you see someone who may be homeless hanging out at burger king or the local coffee shop, take a moment to consider the ease in which we can escape from the cold, and the piece-meal daytime existence of those who are less fortunate.