On Thursday at the Thomas Merton Center, Bridgeport’s Health and Social Services Department announced a homeless care response initiative to help connect homeless people to services.
Director Ebony Jackson-Shaheed said people have been coming to the Margaret E. Morton Government Center asking for help. She said that highlighted the need for a team that can refer residents to services addressing homelessness.
Under the new program announced Thursday, Jackson-Shaheed said health and social service staff would be assigned to act as “point people” to help connect people with the services they need, from homeless shelters to addiction recovery services.
“Those point people can go ahead and start referring to services that are already here, so that we can have better and healthier outcomes,” Jackson-Shaheed said in front of a roughly 40-person crowd that included homeless residents and case workers.
During the event, attendees were provided with information on topics including finding shelters and getting health screenings.
Jackson-Shaheed said the initiative was partly a response to an increase in homeless people living in tents. She said the initiative would include directing those who need assistance to the city’s social services division, based in the government center. There, staff would ensure they are connected to a 211 navigator.
“We realized that a lot of people don’t even have cell phones,” she said. “There’s no way for them to really get connected to the state to get a 211 navigator, to get a bed and a shelter.”
City Councilman Jorge Cruz said he used to get his mail and eat lunch at the Merton Center.
“Oh, I loved that Wednesday pasta,” said Cruz, who has previously experienced homelessness.
He told people in the dining room to reach out to the city’s social services division and its workers.
“The city’s here to show and demonstrate that we are here for you,” he said. “To serve you to the best of our ability, to provide and connect you to the services that are out there.”
Mayor Joe Ganim said the city’s social services and health department is working with nonprofit agencies and churches to be more effective in helping homeless residents.
“All these big things we do, waterfront development, music venues, all these buildings and stuff like that,” Ganim said.
But at the end of the day, he said the job of city officials is based on “how much we do for every individual, especially those in greatest need.”
David Wildman, who is staying at the Prospect House emergency shelter, said the initiative seems to still be in its early stages, but he was glad to see the city making an effort to get homeless people into assistance programs.
“I think that at least now they’re trying to address the issue and making a conscious effort to improve this situation,” he said.
Brittany Cruz, 27, said she was homeless last year and is currently staying in housing provided by the Merton Center. She was taking a more wait-and-see approach toward the new program.
“I’ll believe it when I start seeing change,” Cruz said.
Thomas Merton Center is a program of Catholic Charities of Fairfield County.