BRISTOL â€“ St. Vincent De Paul Mission of Bristol said itâ€™s prepared to handle this weekendâ€™s snowy weather best it can, but next winter season will come with its own challenges as the homeless shelter looks to find an additional space to house individuals in need.
â€śWe not only have the shelter here with our 24 beds,â€ť said the organizationâ€™s Executive Director Christine Thebarge, â€śfrom Jan. 1 of this year through the end of March, we have what we call the winter overflow.â€ť
In the past, the mission building at 19 Jacobs St. had a room dedicated to higher capacity need times and could house around 15 others. With covid precaution protocols now, that number would be lowered to six. The space has now been repurposed for the missionâ€™s in-house clients to stay 24 hours a day, seven days a week in colder weather.Â
Thebarge said the mission was able to come to an arrangement with the First Congregational Church of Bristol two years ago in order to utilize a home next to the church that was formerly office space. An additional 14 unsheltered individuals in the first floor of the space have been able to be housed for the January through March time period. The space is open from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m.
â€śWhen the governor calls a cold weather freeze like we have now, itâ€™s open 24/7,â€ť said Thebarge. â€śThat can get interesting sometimes on staffing, but weâ€™ve been doing well being able to keep it open.â€ť
The director noted the organization had to get special permitting and waivers to overcome zoning restrictions from the state to allow for the additional space to be used as an overflow shelter.
â€śThe church has been dynamite with us and we appreciate their support,â€ť said Thebarge. â€śA lot of the volunteers at the Agape House are staffing up there through the cold weather. It was a collaborative effort to try to find a new location with the (Bristol Task Force to End Family Homelessness).â€ť
How does one get into the overflow shelter? From 6 to 7 p.m., any individual who was there the night before may return. At 7 p.m., any who have not returned, that bed is then opened to others.
In order to find out where open beds are, people can call 211 and thatâ€™s always the first pass if someone is experiencing homelessness or being unsheltered, said Thebarge. From Jan. 1 to March 31, there is a triage center in New Britain open from 5 to 10 p.m. and located at 85 Arch St. operated by the Friendship Center. Area organizations make use of their coordinated access networks to find locations for those to get out of the cold.
â€śWe're running into an increasing number of homeless because of the eviction moratoriums being over and eviction processes happening,â€ť said Thebarge. â€śOne of my biggest panic points is we only are allowed to get special waivers through the state for two years (for the additional overflow space). We are currently looking for a place to hold the overflow for next winter season and on from there.â€ť
The director said it had been difficult the first time to find an overflow location.
â€śWe need to start looking now for where weâ€™ll be able to have at least minimally that many people, if not more,â€ť said the director.
She also noted the mission was constantly looking to keep single serving dry good foods on hand and laundering to keep up with patrons.
â€śItâ€™s essential during the cold weather months,â€ť said Mission Board member and City Council member Sue Tyler of the overflow space. â€śWeâ€™re the only stay-over-night shelter in Bristol. Weâ€™re so grateful for all the organizations that help and support all of the different pieces by doing collections and donations.â€ť
She said she felt that parts of the public were unaware of how to go about utilizing a shelter, and especially in cold weather.
Thebarge said unfortunately the missionâ€™s beds are full at this time but calling 211 initiates a process where collaborating agencies can help find an open bed.