Trick or Trot event aids battle against homelessness in Milford

MILFORD — While statewide statistics show a decline in homelessness over the past decade, Jennifer Paradis says the struggle to aid those with food and housing insecurity remains significant. 

Paradis says that is where Beth El Center, where she has long been executive director, comes in. 

“What we are seeing now is the impact of larger issues — people experiencing domestic violence, job loss, medical issues and poverty, sometimes at the same time, are significantly more likely to lose their housing,” Paradis said. “The lines between unstable and in crisis are blurrier than ever.” 

Beth El Center is a nonprofit organization that has offered a homeless shelter and food service program for those in need in the greater Milford area for decades. 

And Paradis says the center’s work has been boosted annually by the community thanks to various fundraisers, the most notable being the annual Trick or Trot 5k run/walk. The 11th annual Trick or Trot is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 29, beginning at Lisman Landing at 9 a.m. 

“These events are important to our bottom line,” said Paradis. 

Paradis said the 34-bed shelter operates on a waiting list, while the soup kitchen serves thousands of meals each year. Those numbers, she said, are only going up. 

“We have seen progress over the past 10 years,” said Paradis about recorded decreases in the state’s homeless population, “But we are slipping backwards.” 

Paradis said numbers for 2022 show a 13 percent increase in the number of people suffering homelessness.

"We cannot let our foot off the gas here," she said. "The resources given during COVID are gone, now that the pandemic has ended. But the economic impact, combined with a shortage of affordable housing, has only compounded the crisis, and that crisis is significant.” 

The soup kitchen served 25,000 meals in 2019, 34,000 in 2020, 33,000 last year and is on pace to serve 36,000 meals this year. 

"We’re meeting the need but that is getting harder and harder to do each year,” said Paradis, adding that as an example, this year, CT Food Share has allocated only four turkeys for the shelter to date. 

The shelter serves 100 Thanksgiving baskets each year — a goal Paradis says the shelter has always met, but the group is starting a very different place this year, she said.

“The assumption in a community is if you need a shelter bed, you should get one, but that is not the reality we live in,” Paradis said. “All should have access to a shelter bed, but we are in a place where we must prioritize to get to the most vulnerable.” 

Paradis said inflation combined with supply chain problems has caused significant increases in prices for food and necessities like rent and fuel, while wages have remained stagnant. This, she says, has increased the number of people 55 and older the center sees each year. 

The latest annual report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition determined that Connecticut residents would need to earn an hourly wage of $27.80 — about twice Connecticut's minimum wage of $14 an hour — to afford an average two-bedroom apartment rent of about $1,500 a month. 

“People are getting priced out of homes,” she said. 

Beth El Center also offers a no-freeze shelter option for those in need each night when the temperature drops below 32 degrees during the winter months. Paradis said the No Freeze Shelter program used to partner with Motel 6, but that is no longer the case. No space has yet been found for this year’s program, she added, making the barriers to getting the winter program up and running even greater. 

The center also offers outreach and diversion services designed to identify and support individuals and families throughout the shoreline area who are housing unstable and at the brink of becoming homeless. 

Paradis says the center assists those who are at high risk for homelessness by identifying alternate housing arrangements and connecting them with services to help them return to permanent housing without entering the emergency homeless response system. 

The upcoming Trick or Trot event allows people to run or walk a 3.2-mile scenic route through Milford. Costumes are encouraged, and post-race fun includes prizes, food and beer trucks and a band. 

The fee is $33 for the first 150 registrants, $36 thereafter. For participants 18 and younger, the registration fee is $22. To register, visit www.milfordtrickortrot.com

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com