NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — Cheyenne Mendez says she is one of the lucky ones.
“I’m very fortunate even though I’m in a shelter. Imagine if I was outside with my kids, and it makes me very sad that there’s families that are on a waiting list or there’s not space for them to be here,” said Mendez.
Since July, Mendez has lived at Life Haven, a long-term homeless shelter in New Haven. On nights like tonight, when the temperatures are well below freezing, she knows it could be much worse.
“I was working, but I had childcare at the time, and then the childcare, they weren’t able to watch my daughters anymore so that made me lose my job because I couldn’t make up the hours. From there I couldn’t pay the rent and we ended up waiting out an eviction,” said Mendez.
Her story is a familiar one in New Haven. Kara Capone is the Chief Operating Officer of New Reach, which oversees Life Haven and two other shelters.
“In Connecticut, in order to afford a two bedroom apartment, you have to work the equivalent of a hundred and four hours per week at Connecticut state minimum wage,” said Capone.
New Reach has a total of 33 family units and 18 single units. Capone says they are all full all of the time.
“Sometimes it’s one incident where the car breaks down and they can’t get to their job and then they lose employment. That’s something that may cause somebody to become homeless,” said Capone.
According to HUD’s 2013 Point-in-Time Count, there were 767 homeless people in New Haven. Of those, 518 were single adults, 83 were families, and 177 were kids. Many of these people are on waiting lists to get into the shelters.
But, on many cold nights, all long-term and short-term stay shelters are required by city and state officials to have open door policies, allowing the homeless to get out of the frigid air.
New Haven police say they conduct patrols to help find the homeless and bring them to a shelter. The United Way has a 211 hotline that people can call to find an outreach team that can also assist a homeless person or family with finding a shelter.
Mendez’s advice to those in need, don’t be afraid to ask for help.
“Everyone has their own story. One day you could have it all, the next day, you know, you might not. Everyone has their own life story and I feel like people shouldn’t judge them, they should know them,” she said.