BRISTOL – With the approval of $750,000 in American Rescue Plan funding, St. Vincent De Paul Mission of Bristol is looking to create a triage center in the hopes of meeting multiple needs for those looking to overcome homelessness.
According to the homeless shelter and outreach’s executive director, Christine Thebarge, the physical location of the triage center is still being discussed. Bristol City Council approved three-quarters of a million dollars in funding in April for the organization. This was after an extended approval process through the city’s ARPA Task Force which vetted over 140 project requests totaling around $84 million from various city nonprofits, businesses and city-focused improvement projects.
“This will be like a social service triage,” said Thebarge. “If somebody is experiencing homelessness or imminently experiencing homelessness, the goal is to have a place that people can come to and gather all kinds of information.”
The director noted she’s had many conversations with a variety of area residents who knew friends or acquaintances who needed help and were looking for a direction to proceed. The aim of the center is to provide a location where the “guesswork” of where to send a client for resources and services could be eliminated by having many of them housed in the same space.
“Right now with the state, there is a decided lack of shelter beds,” said Thebarge.
She said the first step if someone finds themselves facing homelessness, whether that’s through eviction or other challenges, is to call 211, the Connecticut United Way number to connect residents with major human services and crisis intervention. She noted the center could be a place to help with phone calls, connect clients with relatives and friends out-of-state for help or find available housing programs.
“Everybody’s situation is a little bit different,” said the director. “If we have well-trained staff, we can find out who the best person is in our group to talk to or does somebody else within the city have the expertise and can we spearhead creating that relationship.”
She highlighted it was important to make the best of already existing partnerships with other area organizations and the city.
St. Vincent, as an emergency shelter, does have an outreach team. The addition of specialized staff will help improve its mission of getting clients homes and living sustainably. Thebarge said St. Vincent has already been looking at hiring a specialized manager to head the new triage center and would start searching for around three to four more employees, such as a housing specialist, to get the project in motion.
With the moratorium on evictions over in Connecticut, shelters and outreach programs are receiving more calls from individuals facing homelessness.
“The level of awareness was there that it was happening someday,” she said. “Now it’s happening quickly. With landlords having to make up funding and particular situations they’re in, it’s difficult to find apartments right now.”
Thebarge said such a triage center would focus on creative thinking in meeting client needs, whether that meant exploring housing routes not previously considered, coliving with relatives or whatever route was necessary.
“People are in a state of shock and it gets tricky because oftentimes it’s not a surprise, but when it hits, your feet feel like lead and you’re not quite sure which way to move first or how to get momentum going,” she said.