Beth-El's No-Freeze Shelter exceeds capacity in Milford over holiday weekend

MILFORD –Beth-El Center's No-Freeze shelter was operating over capacity Friday night through Monday morning amid the cold snap, officials said.

"We expected it to be a busy warming center this weekend," said Jennifer Paradis, Beth-El's executive director.

On Christmas Eve, the temperature was 11 degrees with a wind chill of minus 6 to 4 degrees. On Christmas night, the temperature was 22 degrees with a 12-degree wind chill, according to the National Weather Service.

"This is weather that can kill people. This is not a nice warm coat that will help the type of weather. So these programs are critical," added Paradis. "These programs are not nice to have. They are must-haves."

She said they had 18 people each night, three more than the No-Freeze Shelter's capacity of 15. 

"It was tighter quarters," she said. "We have much gratitude for the individuals in the program because they were cold and tired, but they were always supporting each other during the long weekend."

The Beth-El Center team has been looking for a larger space to operate the no-freeze shelter for six months, but has yet to be successful.

Paradis said they've seen homelessness double from 2021 to 2022. In Bridgeport, homeless shelters were near capacity as temperatures started to drop.

"All the warming centers in New Haven were filled over this long weekend," she added. "I'm thankful for that, but I know that means some folks were left outside."

Paradis said there need to be more No-Freeze Shelters to serve the community better and create more capacity in the system.

"Because if we reach capacity and everything is full, there will be folks who will be left out," she said.

No-Freeze Shelters are overnight shelters where people can sleep, while warming centers are only open while the location is open, such as the library. Beth-El also serves as a warming center for Milford.

Last year, Beth-El's shelter had more than 40 beds because it could put people in hotels through a reimbursement program, compared to this year's capacity of 15.

"The fact we saw 18 individuals does not reflect the number of people who needed the service. Instead, it's a reflection of the capacity of our services," Paradis said. "Some folks went elsewhere and sought other services because we simply didn't have enough room."

Paradis said they're looking at hoteling again now that the governor has extended the executive order allowing the reimbursement to continue, in addition to expanding in other ways.

"Beth-El is working on remodeling our program to expand capacity. Not sure exactly how it will look like, but it will help get folks into shelter faster," she said. "Reducing the folks we see in the warming center is the goal because they are getting shelter faster."

In addition to serving as a shelter and warming center, Paradis said they also served 50 meals on Christmas Eve.

"These are not folks staying at our warming centers but folks who had lunch with us that day," she said. "The fact that we saw 50 people on a day that was Christmas Eve and the temperatures were below zero during parts of the day speaks to what the need is."