Milford Approves Model Homeless Shelter Bringing Together Housing, Services

Milford City Hall (Google Map Data, 2024)


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MILFORD — The Planning and Zoning Board voted 8-0 last week to approve plans for a new, $10 million Beth-El Center homeless shelter that proponents say will be a national model in the fight to end homelessness.

For Beth-El, the approval was the culmination of years of work developing a building design that brings under one roof all the social-service and economic resources the city’s sole homeless shelter will need to flourish, said Jennifer Paradis, the shelter’s executive director.

Paradis expressed her gratitude for the vote in a social media post on Wednesday.

“When direct service intersects with community building, all things are made possible. Last night, Beth-El Center achieved what appears to be impossible throughout much of Connecticut nd the country: Unanimous support for expanding homeless response,” Paradis said. “It takes whole communities to do what we did last night – I’m so proud of us and looking forward to all the work ahead.”

Expected to be about 20,000 square feet, the shelter will be built at 993 Bridgeport Ave, which the shelter bought for $1.08 million last fall. It will leave 90 New Haven Ave., where the shelter currently operates a 24/7, 34-bed shelter program, including individual rooms for 12 men, five women and six families.

Its construction will be funded through a combination of donations and grants. More than double the size of the old, the new site is designed to be light years ahead of the New Haven Avenue site in efficiency, Paradis said.

“The new and redesigned space will feature dedicated areas for essential services, such as a community kitchen, life skills development, and permanent supportive housing. It will also include outdoor meeting spaces and an inspirational art gallery, fostering a supportive and empowering environment,” she said in a letter to the board.

According to the letter, the upgrades include:

  • Ten suites for emergency shelter families designed as two 4-unit blocks and one 2-unit block, each housing four family members per unit and one bathroom per family. Three shared kitchen, dining, living, laundry and play area are part of this.

  • Two 1-bedroom and nine studio units with sleeping, dining, living, cooking, laundry and bathing areas.

  • A daycare center and outdoor upper-floor and fenced-in playground area for emergency shelter clients.

  • An expanded winter shelter program to support unsheltered homelessness year-round.

  • A commercial kitchen, community kitchen dining hall and community kitchen office to serve three meals a day.

One of the difficulties of the present shelter is its lack of space for the comprehensive, multi-social-service and training programs that shelter clients need to get back on their feet. That lack forced social workers to hold meetings in the shelter parking lot or to outsource programs to places including the Milford Public Library. The new building has that space.

No one spoke against the plan during the PZB meeting. Residents from the Robert Treat Apartments, a vast new apartment complex located on the hill above the shelter site, generally support the shelter being placed in their neighborhood, said Lorna Sura, a Robert Treat resident who is also the president-elect of the Milford Rotary Club.

“There is some concern that we are going to get up one day and find people in the hallway [of their apartment buildings], Sura said, “and I have tried to alleviate that concern by saying that the services are so good that they [city homeless] will know that they can go [to the new shelter] for help.”

The new shelter will require 15 full-time staff, mostly on-site from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and 15 part-time staff, working evenings and weekends as hourly support staff. One site supervisor will always be on-site, Paradis said in her letter.

Paradis believes that chronic homelessness can be eliminated. Residents of Bergen County, New Jersey, ended chronic homelessness in their area. Center workers did “a lot of research” on how to solve homelessness in Milford, Paradis said during the meeting. “Solving homelessness means investing in the right buildings. This building does that,” she said.