Severe Cold Temperatures: DESK Steps up

Severe Cold Temperatures: DESK Steps up

Frigid New England temperatures present the most dire threat to those we serve at DESK. While most of us were stocking up on supplies so we could stay home and avoid the worst of it, those experiencing homelessness in our community were looking for a lifeline.

Last Thursday, Governor Lamont enacted the Severe Cold Weather Protocol. Program Manager Evan Serio and the warming center team at DESK sprang into action to assist the state’s most vulnerable population: unhoused and unsheltered individuals.

During the cold weather crisis this past weekend, DESK’s Guests were able to stay safe, charge up their cell phones, access internet, get something to eat, and receive referrals to much-needed services.

“Oftentimes, it’s a breath of relief and really just a moment to gather themselves,” said Evan Serio, Program Manager for DESK.

Serving those most in need means being there when we’re needed.

Watch the full story here on Fox 61 News and learn about how DESK is working to help people move beyond homelessness.

Cold Weather Press Conference 2022

Cold Weather Press Conference 2022

Last Friday, DESK hosted a press conference at our Drop-in & Resource Center on behalf of the Greater New Haven Regional Alliance to End Homelessness and as part of a statewide coordinated day of advocacy with the CT Coalition to End Homelessness.  There was an excellent turnout of clients, staff, volunteers, supporters, elected officials, and media.  Several of us spoke about the need for state legislators to commit to including in the state budget at least $5 million in cold weather response funding in the upcoming budget negotiations this winter.  This year’s warming centers in New Haven are largely funded through emergency funding that was cobbled together in a very last-minute manner.  Going forward, we should be able to count on the state to ensure sufficient life-saving services for unhoused people, especially during the coldest months.

Check out some of the media coverage of the event:

Provide Some Winter Warmth

Provide Some Winter Warmth

They say it’s best to avoid politics and religion in polite conversation.  But here’s another thorny topic that threatens to divide us:  Winterdo you love it or hate it?

At DESK, our opinion of winter has swung back and forth over the years.  Not too long ago, we really looked forward to winter as our quietest months.  It’s counterintuitive when you’re in the business of basic needs, but, at one time, we saw fewer Guests at dinner in the winter because there were fewer people living on the streets: seasonal shelter beds would open every November, and unsheltered homelessness in New Haven would decrease for a couple of months.  Fewer people on the streets meant fewer people at DESK.

But all that’s changed.

Over the last few years, we’ve seen the numbers of unhoused individuals on the streets increase and the number of shelter beds decrease—a mismatch of supply and demand.  To respond to this need, DESK has been called upon repeatedly in recent years to step up and do more.

And we’ve responded.  On a blustery night almost a year ago, DESK did something that, in our 35-year history, we had never done before: we didn’t close after dinner.  Instead, we stayed open until the next morning to offer a safe place—a literal refuge—for people with nowhere else to turn.

Last winter, we stayed open overnight 47 more times.  This winter, we’re taking it even further.  On November 28, we began using our new Drop-in & Resource Center on State Street as a seven-night-per-week, overnight warming center.  And we’ll keep this up for 140 nights, straight into mid-April: a critical, life-saving refuge for people with nowhere to go.

DESK may be known primarily for food assistance, but those we serve will tell you that we’re so much more than a “soup kitchen.”  Whatever our people need—food, clothing, toiletries, overnight refuge, medical care, blankets, coats, case management, or just someone to talk to—that is what we offer.  Food is a good starting point, but it’s not the only reason we open our hearts to the most vulnerable in our community.  As we often joke around here: we don’t serve food; we serve people!

And as for winter, it’s a bitter-sweet opportunity for DESK to do what we do best: connect with those who are most in need.  We’re looking forward to the day when we can enjoy our quiet winters again, where people come to us not because they have to, as a life-saving measure, but because they want to, as a way to find and build community.  Until then, help us ensure that no one gets left out in the cold.

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And thank you.