'Where are we going to go?': Stamford homeless shelter to move clients out of hotels by end of month

Residents including Ricky Gagne, center, listen as Pacific House Director Rob Lockhard announces plans to vacate Super 8 hotel where Pacific House houses 97 residents and La Quinta where they house 20 residents during a resident meeting at Super 8 Thursday, March 4, 2021, in Stamford, Conn. Director Lockhard says he plans to rehouse the residents somewhere else since the Shelters capacity is down to 40 beds.

Residents including Ricky Gagne, center, listen as Pacific House Director Rob Lockhard announces plans to vacate Super 8 hotel where Pacific House houses 97 residents and La Quinta where they house 20 residents during a resident meeting at Super 8 Thursday, March 4, 2021, in Stamford, Conn. Director Lockhard says he plans to rehouse the residents somewhere else since the Shelters capacity is down to 40 beds.

Erik Trautmann / Hearst Connecticut Media

STAMFORD — As the pandemic raged last spring, local homeless shelters were faced with a critical decision: move people from their facilities or risk an outbreak of COVID-19.

Rob Lockhart, director of program services for Pacific House, said the decision was a no-brainer.

“It could’ve been worse than what happened with the nursing homes,” Lockhart said. “We were so stacked on top of each other at the shelter — it would’ve been a disaster.”

So shelters like Pacific House teamed up with the state Department of Housing to move individuals to hotels, where social distancing could be practiced safely. Medically fragile individuals and those 60 and older were brought to La Quinta; the rest settled down at the Super 8.

For nearly a year, the two hotels have been a refuge for Stamford’s homeless population. But by the end of this month, the 97 individuals staying in them will need to find new living arrangements.

Funding from the state DOH is drying up, Lockhart explained, and the use of hotels as temporary shelters will soon end.

Lockhart said the goal is to line up new housing for everyone, whether it is through Pacific House’s affordable housing complexes, housing vouchers or reunification with friends and family. Those who can’t find a more permanent solution by the end of the month will be offered a space to live at local shelters.

“We want to make sure that everyone has a place to stay at the end of this,” Lockhart said.

Still, some clients are scared they will wind up back on the streets.

Leon Standly, who has been staying at the Super 8 hotel since last spring, said he’s worried there is an “insufficient” amount of shelter spots and housing options to adequately house the nearly 100 people currently staying in hotels.

“Where are we going to go, back to the bus station or under the nearest bridge? I don’t know. We just don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said.

Standly and nearly 30 others gathered outside the Super 8 Hotel Thursday afternoon in low temperatures to learn more details about the planned move away from the hotels. Some conveyed gratitude for the extended stay at the hotel, while others expressed apprehension at what lays ahead. Most just took the news in silence.

During the meeting, Lockhart implored the group to immediately begin working with their case managers and Pacific House staffers to line up new living arrangements.

“We’re not trying to put anybody out, but we’re asking people to make some choices here, housing choices,” Lockhart said. “But this doesn’t happen without everyone being motivated and working toward this goal. Every single person needs to remind themselves that they need to be a part of the plan. But it has to be what you want. If you don’t want to have housing, well that’s your plan. But it’s probably not the best plan.”

According to Lockhart, Pacific House only has 18 independent housing units available, 12 of which are still under construction and are expected to be completed in the next two weeks.

Lockhart said those who don’t secure housing through Pacific House will need to apply for housing through DOH programs like Rapid Exits, which helps fund first-month’s rent and security deposits for individuals who have recently fallen on hard times, and Rapid Re-housing, which provides a person with short-term financial assistance until they can pay their own rent.

And for those who can’t arrange housing?

Lockhart said they will be offered space at Pacific House’s men’s shelter, where there are 38 beds available, or Inspirica, an all-women shelter in Stamford with 42 beds, according to their website.

“When it’s all said and done, we want to have a roof over each of these people’s heads,” Lockhart said.

Rich Gross, a lifelong Stamford resident who has been staying at the Super 8 for nearly two months, said the next month is going to “be tough for everyone.” He said he’s grateful for Pacific House staff and their help, but he said he’s “concerned” that a month might not be long enough to find a place to live.

“I have a car, but sleeping in a car is no fun,” Gross said.

Steve DiLella, director of Individual and Family Support Programs with the state DOH, said the Stamford situation is a part of larger, statewide efforts to “slowly reduce” its use of hotels as temporary shelters.

The department originally looked to cut back its use of hotels toward the end of last summer; however, the second wave of COVID-19 and dipping temperatures put those plans on hold, according to DiLella.

DiLella said the department is working closely with organizations like Pacific House to ensure that everyone at the hotels finds shelter somewhere else.

“Our goal is to not have anyone discharged to the street, so that will not happen,” DiLella said.

Not everyone is convinced, though.

Some, like Standly, remain skeptical that everyone will find a place to stay by the end of the month.

“I just hope everyone will be accounted for,” Standly said.