Beth-El Center's Goal Is To Expand No-Freeze Shelter With New Building

MILFORD, CT — At Beth-El, the number of people they help used to change as the seasons changed, especially from summer to winter, but recently, the number of people they help has been increasing despite the weather.

“It felt like we were getting closer to there being enough recourses to what folks were needed, but for the past two years, it has not felt like that,” Jennifer Paradis, Beth-El executive director, said. “It has felt like the same high level of need at request.”

Paradis said since September, there has been a 46 percent increase in unsheltered homelessness for families.

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“We’ve seen nearly a 50 percent increase in family homelessness in a matter of two months,” she said.

As Beth-El gears up for their winter weather services, Jennifer Paradis, executive director for Beth-El, said they are providing services to more and more people.

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“Our No-Freeze program is scheduled to open the week of Thanksgiving, and we are working on staffing and scheduling,” Paradis said. “It will be located in our soup kitchen dining hall again.”

Many would equate winter weather services with keeping people out of snowy or icy conditions, but Paradis said it’s more than that.

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“It’s not always necessarily about bad weather events. It’s also about the long-term exposure,” she said.

Paradis participated in the 5th Annual Sleep Out To End Homelessness and said it was about 35 degrees overnight.

“I could not feel my feet by the morning,” she said. “I had two pairs of socks, my sleeping bag, and my winter coat was on and it was still cold. I wore my Fitbit for record purposes and to try to understand from a data perspective how cold affects people, and my Fitbit told me that I only slept 3 hours and 22 minutes.”

“I was sleeping in a tent with a person who used a glucose monitor, and their glucose monitor stopped working because of the cold,” Paradis added. “It was a moment to try to understand and to advocate for more services.”

Making sure people have a warm place to sleep is part of the No-Freeze program, but there is another critical role the program plays.

“We typically serve anywhere from 17 to 25 people a night, and we provide food, shower access and we do have connections to our case management services,” Paradis said. “Folks can get into the larger system, so our cold weather programming acts like a funnel. Many folks that walk into our doors aren’t part of the grater system and need a place to stay that night, but we want to ensure they have access to housing resources.”

Paradis said they also see an increase in food this year, and for Thanksgiving, they will be open for breakfast from 9:30 a.m. to noon.

“We serve about 75 meals during breakfast,” Paradis said. “Mary Taylor Memorial Church is doing a Thanksgiving Dinner from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.”

Besides food, they also have increased coats, gloves, scarves and things like ChapStick and sunblock.

“We treat more winter-related illness and things like frostbite on toes, which is a big thing during wintertime,” Paradis said. “Our medical partners, Cornell Scott Hill Health Center, are on site with us and treat a lot more of those cold weather-related conditions.”

For many years, the work at Beth-El had a seasonality where it would increase in winter months and decrease in summer months, but in recent years, the work has been the same all year round.

“Which speaks to why many programs didn’t close,” Paradis said. “In New Haven, they still have three walk-in programs open from last winter because unsheltered homelessness has increased so much.”

In Milford, the public shower program was one of those never closed.

“That start to support people in the summertime and getting relief from summer heat,” Paradis said. “We’ve gone from five showers to 10 showers a day, and now we are around 25 showers a day. It speaks to the volume of people needing a place to shower.”

“Unfortunately, the measurement of need is often the capacity of the recourse,” Paradis said.

This is why Paradis is excited about the new shelter to be able to transform the No-Freeze program into a program that never closes.

“The goal of the new building is to provide the service that we provide during the No-Freeze program season all year round,” she said. “So, when we talk about a 24-hour walk-in drop-in center for people who are homeless in our community, we are talking about the program that has been run successfully for the last 15 years just all year round.”

“We want our community to understand there’s no dramatic change happening here. It’s really about rescaling what we do to do it better and keep people connected,” Paradis added. “This is going to be a game-changer for us.”

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