Where to turn?
STAMFORD — The number of people spending their nights inside the Stamford train station always grows during the coldest months of the year, but this year has seen a bigger spike than usual, according to a local service provider.
Leroy Jordan, a street outreach worker for homeless shelter Pacific House, said homelessness has been worse than in previous years, but it’s difficult to pinpoint what is driving the increase.
One thing he’s noticed is more new faces among the homeless at the station — a sign that the population is coming from other locations, and an indication that Stamford’s centrally located station is a desirable place to be for those living on society’s margins.
On top of the proximity to New York City, the station has security and offers a safe and warm place to be.
“Stamford is safer than New York, safer than Hartford. Everything is so convenient and local here,” he said. “The train station is perfect for what they want to do.”
By his count, there were more than 20 homeless people in the Stamford station on one cold night in the last month, the most he’s seen in a while.
Since then, the number has decreased, as many have ended up at the Pacific House shelter, thanks to Jordan’s outreach. He said six people who were staying at the train station came into the shelter just last week.
Because of the increase in homeless people at the station, Pacific House representatives recently met with Inspirica, a Stamford agency that works to break the cycle of homelessness, and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, along with other organizations. The groups all belong to a task force focused on finding the best way to address the homeless population in the railroad system.
Jordan sees the need for housing on a daily basis. He said he receives about 15 calls a day from people looking for help finding a place to live.
A fuller picture of the homeless situation in Stamford will be available once the annual Point-In-Time (PIT) count, a physical count of homeless persons, takes place this Tuesday. The number of homeless people in the Stamford-Greenwich area stayed stagnant the last two years, hovering at around 255 people. That number was a decrease from the 309 homeless people tallied in 2016.
Part of the reason so many homeless congregate at the Stamford station is they can’t be kicked out of the public space. According to Jordan, station police do not make homeless people leave the station unless they are being disruptive or breaking the law.
AnaVivian Escalante Estrella, the chief officer of program effectiveness and performance measurement for Inspirica, said the best strategy has been approaching homeless people at the station directly and offering shelter services.
Estrella said there are many local resources for homeless people. For example, if someone employed but is struggling to make enough to pay a security deposit, Inspirica can help secure funding for that, and help people find homes.
The city offers a number of services through various centers and shelters, such as free meals, showers and places to sleep, in addition to survival services for domestic abuse and sexual assault victims.
The quickest way to find help, she said, is to call 211.
Nonetheless, not all homeless people are open to the idea of a shelter, she said. Some are dealing with severe mental illnesses and are not prepared for a shelter environment. Others have been flagged for unsafe behavior in the past and can no longer go to a shelter.
“Everybody has their own issue with shelters, some people think it’s a jail, some people want their own freedom,” Jordan said.
Estrella said one thing that has struck her about the homeless population in Stamford is that many are working. Some of them, such as day laborers, work throughout the week, but when the weekend rolls around, they don’t have anywhere to go.
A lack of rooms for rent and affordable housing makes it difficult for many to find a home, she said.
“There’s this dynamic that more and more people don’t know where to turn to,” she said.