Connecticut Homeless Shelter Closes Instead of Letting In Substance Abusers

By McCarton Ackerman 05/15/15

A homeless shelter in Manchester has turned down funding in objection to rules requiring the admission of addicts.

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A long-standing homeless shelter in Connecticut has sparked plenty of debate by choosing to close its doors for good rather than admit drug and alcohol abusers.

The Manchester Area Conference of Churches, which runs its 40-bed shelter in the town of Manchester, has turned down $174,000 from the state's Department of Housing. They object to the state rule which requires facilities that are funded to take in people who are actively using drugs or alcohol.

Beth Stafford, the group’s executive director, said they don’t have the resources to handle potentially dangerous or volatile situations that can occur when people actively use. They plan to close the facility by July 1.

"I feel like it's just warehousing people," said Stafford. "It's not helping. It's a tough population, anyway, because you can't make people do things."

Other than during extreme cold or heat, the Manchester shelter has historically denied admission to people who are drinking and using drugs. MACC Charities and other so-called shelters typically use breathalyzer tests to screen people. Stafford also explained that MACC lacks the staff and funding to supervise active alcohol and drug abusers overnight.

The organization also expressed concern that the shelter could be used repeatedly by drug and alcohol abusers as a place to dry out. The MACC website states that their facility “is not a long-term shelter ... the average stay is roughly 15 days and guests are expected to be working on a recovery plan while using our shelter.”

Outreach workers for MACC said they have continued to perform outreach to a “tent city” of homeless residents in the main part of town. However, they claim that some of these chronically homeless residents have refused to stop drinking or using illegal substances even when treatment or other services were offered to them.

There are 66 emergency shelters throughout Connecticut. Lisa Tepper Bates, executive director of the Hartford-based Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness, said that most of them accept people who are using drugs or alcohol.

Tragically, homelessness is all too often a product of addiction. The U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness reports that nearly half of all homeless individuals suffer from a substance use disorder. This statistic rises to 70% when dealing with veterans. Many of these individuals are also “screened out” of public housing if they aren’t sober while trying to access these services.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.