This Thanksgiving, Leroy Jordan is feeling thankful to his friends Ellis Crawford and Reggie Spears.
The two support what Jordan has made his life’s work – helping the people who live on the streets of Stamford.
At this time of year, Crawford and Spears collect coats and jackets for the men, women, and children of the city who have no homes.
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Jordan, an outreach worker at the Stamford Pacific House shelter, shares with his friends the plight of people who, by state definition, live “in places not intended for human habitation.”
Jordan said that for someone who is chronically homeless, a coat or jacket is a one-time thing. If you don’t have a place to hang it, you only own it as long as you wear it.
“They try to travel as much as possible,” said Jordan, a lifelong Stamford resident who has worked in outreach for 23 years. Besides, things get lost, stolen or left behind. If someone wears a new jacket this winter, they likely won’t wear it next winter. They need a new one every year. Getting a jacket is really big.”
So Jordan calls on his old friends, Crawford and Spears—personal trainers and partners at the All American Athletes fitness center on Research Drive—who have put out a call to their clients that warm clothes are in demand on the streets.
“We have good clients. “They love to help out and make sure people are okay,” Crawford said.
“When it’s cold out, we all want to keep someone warm for the night,” Spears said.
Cold is the homeless’ brutal enemy, Jordan said, and the need for shelter is enormous.
“I’ve never seen it this bad,” he said. “I’m working with all the agencies in the state, and everyone says their numbers have gone up dramatically.”
This was reflected in an official report released last month. It showed that homelessness in Connecticut, after declining for eight years, increased by 13 percent between 2021 and 2022.
The report indicated that several factors contributed to the high rates of homelessness. The ongoing economic fallout from the pandemic includes; skyrocketing costs for rent, groceries, and other necessities; and an acute housing shortage – vacancy rates for rental units in Connecticut are among the lowest in the United States
Jordan said the housing shortage is so severe that people with Section 8 vouchers, a federal program that subsidizes rent in the private market for low-income families, the elderly and the disabled, can’t find a place to live.
“I know four women and three single men who have Section 8 vouchers and can’t find a room — and Section 8 is federal money that goes straight to the landlord,” Jordan said.
Jordan said there was another difficulty.
In Connecticut, the only way for the homeless to access help is to call 2-1-1 or use its online equivalent. Housing professionals who answer the hotline assess callers and refer them to providers in their area, or to one of the state’s seven coordinated access networks.
“You can’t go to a shelter anymore if you need a bed,” Jordan said. “You have to make a call at 2-1-1.”
The 2-1-1 specialists check the caller’s status with the outreach worker, such as Jordan. Once this happens, Jordan said, the caller is “activated”.
“But that doesn’t mean the person goes to a shelter. It means they’re on a waiting list, because all the shelters are full.
Jordan said the waiting list this week at Stamford includes about 50 women, 65 to 70 men, and 35 families.
“What touches me and pains me is seeing the families there,” he said.
He said people were sleeping in cars, at Stamford train station, at Cummings Beach and in bus shelters downtown.
“Some people walk around,” Jordan said. “Some homeless women bring their children to a relative’s house to sleep but the mother has no place so she sleeps in her car. Then in the morning she picks up her children and brings them to school.”
Jordan said he found three men sleeping in the corner of a decorative brick wall that marks the entrance to a garden.
“It was cold. I mean, it was under the cold. My face just froze for the few minutes I was talking to her,” Jordan said. ‘One of the men turned to me and said, ‘How is your friend? Is he alive?’ The man said, “We’re fine. They didn’t want to come to the shelter. I don’t know how they do it.”
Jordan said two men in their 50s, both Polish nationals, have been sleeping on the streets of Stamford for a decade.
They live on a beach. “They refuse to come to the shelter, despite their advanced age and broken bodies,” Jordan said. “I recently heard from someone. He said he was coming. When he got here his whole body was shaking. We had to call 911. He’s still in the hospital.”
About 85 percent of the homeless, Jordan said, “deal with mental health or substance abuse issues.” “The rest of them just fell on hard times — they lost their jobs or they’re in the process of settling for a divorce.”
Jordan said the system is unfriendly to those who want shelter.
He said the 2-1-1 hotline was jammed. He said that a call can take up to two hours, most of the time he spends on hold.
The program was not set up to handle this size of the homeless population. “It was set up to give out information,” Jordan said. “What happens is people get the information and call 2-1-1 again to say, ‘But what are we going to do now?'” We are homeless.”
According to the 2-1-1 website, CT.211counts.org, the highest service requests from last November to this November were 29.5 percent for shelter bed, 27.5 percent for low-cost housing, and 20 percent for rental assistance.
According to the website, the hotline receives 1,000 housing-related calls per day.
On November 1, with 2-1-1 running out of funding, the state cut business hours from 24-7 to 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. seven days a week. But on November 10, Governor Ned Lamont announced that his office would release $8.5 million in aid to connect the homeless to housing, food, and mental health services.
Lamont’s office said the state’s housing department is creating hubs that will accept walk-in appointments and take direct referrals from 2-1-1 employees, with the goal of reducing call volume.
Jordan said Pacific House, one of the largest homeless shelters in Fairfield County with 67 beds, is among the centers.
Rep. David Michel of Stamford, who worked on homeless issues during his years in the Connecticut home, said that wouldn’t fill the need this winter.
“There is no reason to expect that someone on the waiting list will get a bed because that means someone will leave the shelter. The person waiting will probably be living on the streets this winter,” Michelle said. “I have one of my constituents, a 70-year-old woman, who lives in a truck. People like her, who are not old and have no access problems, are less likely to find a place. This is a bad situation.”
All the more reason to help, said Spears, who was on two football teams at Greenwich High School, and Crawford, who played basketball, football and baseball at Stamford Catholic High School.
Spears said he learned from Jordan that “people don’t get help unless they hit rock bottom. The system doesn’t do much to stop people from hitting rock bottom. They get help as soon as they are in a shelter.”
Everyone needs to be involved, Crawford said.
“We just want to be of any help we can,” Crawford said. “We want to do our part in society.”
Jordan said something has struck him over the years – many Stamford residents believe there is no homelessness in Stamford.
“It’s because they don’t see the homeless, because a lot of the homeless don’t want anyone to know they’re homeless,” Jordan said.
The goal is that one day, anyone who wears a new jacket will be able to keep it. The way to get there, Jordan said, “is to have a home for everybody.”