Two homeless men who died within the past six months may not be missed by throngs of people, but some here notice that the two men are no longer seen downtown.
The two men were among a group that social workers here call Milford’s “unsheltered homeless,” those who “choose” for a variety of reasons to live outside in tents or in their cars rather than to take advantage of the area shelters.

“Some of them will come to the No Freeze Shelter during the winter months; others will not,” said Toni Dolan, director of the Beth El Shelter.

While she couldn’t offer details on the two homeless men who died in Milford in recent months, she confirmed that there were two deaths of homeless men, both due to lifestyle-related health issues.

While many people may choose to look the other way when they see someone who appears homeless, there are others in town who can’t look the other way and therefore get to know them.

One resident who works at a downtown area liquor store said he remembers the two men, and noticed when they stopped frequenting the shop. One of the two, he recalled, was well read, a big fan of rock music, and someone who enjoyed taking the train to New York every now and then.

“If he shaved and cleaned up, he could have been any one of us,” the downtown worker said. He guessed that both men were in their forties, but added that with this population it is sometimes difficult to gauge age.

He thought it odd that two homeless men in Milford had died within several months of each other.

But Dolan said their deaths were not connected to cold weather or any trend, but rather to their lifestyle and health issues.

“I would not say that there is any ‘trend’ or situation brewing in Milford,” Dolan said. “Unfortunately, two untimely and unnecessary deaths that did not have to happen had they accessed the many services that this community and the greater New Haven community has to offer for the homeless is very sad.”

“It is sad,” said the downtown shop worker who noticed their absence. One Milford library official said the same, noting that the deaths hit the staff hard, as both were regular library users and very respectful and polite to staff and other patrons.

Some of the area homeless have quite a network of people who are good to them. One woman, a long-time patron of Milford’s soup kitchen, went to New Haven over the cold snap because she had a friend there to stay with — most of the winter she stayed in the Beth El Center’s No Freeze shelter.

“The woman at the coffee shop was quite concerned because the woman hadn’t been seen in a few days,” Dolan said. “We were able to check with some of her friends and found out where she was. She did return after that weekend, but it is heartwarming to know how many people care enough to be concerned.”

The homeless issue isn’t any greater than it was 10 years ago, city officials said. There may be as many as 20 unsheltered homeless in various parts of the city.

“Given the federal and state goals to end homelessness, there are so many resources available to the chronically homeless population at the present time,” Dolan said. “These unsheltered homeless would meet that definition and are the ones being targeted by [the department of Housing and Urban Development] and, therefore, by all of the housing and shelter providers as they are considered the most vulnerable.”

There is a system in place to help the homeless. However, Dolan said many of the unsheltered do not trust the “system,” are not “ready” to give up their “choice of drug,” have untreated mental illness, and/or do not want to be governed by any “rules.”

“Therefore, they ‘choose’ not to avail themselves of our shelter or any other ones for that matter and remain outside,” Dolan said.

She said some are very complex individuals, but they could all be helped if they took advantage of the many resources in the homeless “industry” and/or the many community resources that are available in Milford.

Dolan says the inability to pull these people into a network that could help them is frustrating.