ROCKY HILL, CT – While many in the state gathered with family to celebrate the holidays, United Way of Connecticut/211 sprang into action during the Christmas weekend to ensure that Connecticut’s most vulnerable residents could secure shelter. The severe weather and extreme low temperatures from 6:00 p.m. Friday, December 23 to noon on Tuesday, December 27, when high winds knocked out the power of more than 100,000 Connecticut residents, created life-threatening conditions for those without heat or outside, with nowhere to go.
As part of the state emergency response team, 211 works closely with state agencies, municipalities, and non-profits engaged in providing support to residents. 211 keeps close track of the rapidly changing landscape of warming centers and Connecticut’s network of shelters in the 211 human services database. Working around the clock, 211 was available to make sure that anyone in need received shelter from the outdoors, including providing transportation when needed to shelters, warming centers, and emergency motel space across the state.
211 contact specialists answered a total of 624 calls during the three-and-a-half-day activation, with call volume the highest from Hartford, Bridgeport, Stamford, and New Haven. 211 contact specialists arranged for emergency transportation for 73 residents and emergency hotel space for 96 when no warming center or shelter space was available. 211’s database of warming centers and other cold weather resources was searched 3,752 times for up-to-date information throughout the stormy conditions.
“The high numbers of people calling and using the resources online at 211ct.org illustrate the gravity of the storm’s impact,” said Lisa Tepper Bates, President and CEO of United Way of Connecticut, “and it’s important to celebrate the fantastic work of our 211 contact specialists who are truly unsung heroes, sacrificing their own time with family over the holiday weekend to provide this important support during extraordinary and dangerous weather.” 211 staff problem-solved with each caller to make sure they could get inside: from organizing individual transportation for people out in the cold, to negotiating with motel staff to ensure there could be room for all who needed it. Nadia Pessoa, 211 Coordinated Intake Housing Program Manager, said, “It was great to be able to offer people without homes, power or heat somewhere to go -- it is a privilege for all of us to do this work!”
All 211 staff are local in Connecticut, and this is their community. One contact specialist shared that “A man called in from my hometown. I knew exactly where he was located and after discovering there were no warming centers that could take him, I was able to direct him 500 feet from where he was to a hotel where we could put him up for the duration of the cold weather. He became so emotional and just filled with gratitude. He exclaimed ‘I love you!’ even though I was a complete stranger.”
A train station security guard from Bridgeport called 211, asking for help for a group of people seeking shelter in the station, none of whom had a telephone. The 211 contact specialist coordinated a warm, safe place for five people, coordinating rides to their accommodations.
Another Connecticut resident called at 3:45 a.m., when temperatures were dangerously low, needing somewhere warm to go. While waiting for his ride to arrive, he shared his story: he is a musician, struggles with mental illness, and just needed somewhere warm to go where he could be sheltered and not be alone. Another caller, sick with COVID and outside on a bench at the Manchester Public Library, could not find shelter inside because the library was closed. With no nearby shelter available, the 211 contact specialist was able to book him a room at a local motel, arrange for transportation, and text a list of food pantries and soup kitchens to his cellphone for the next day. The 211 contact specialist stayed on phone with the caller until he was safely inside the car when he shared, “If it wasn't for you I don't know what I would do."
United Way of Connecticut is proud of team members who recapped their work together in after-action reporting once the extreme weather subsided. One contact specialist summed up the team’s experience during this storm that was so deadly in some places along the East Coast: “Our hearts are full knowing we didn’t turn anyone away, and there weren’t even more senseless deaths! My heart swells when I think of the impact we just had. I got to experience a side of humanity this weekend that I never want to lose sight of again!” 211 is proud to work, day-in and day-out, with partners across the state to ensure that residents in need can connect with the resources available to help them. The extreme weather event of the past weekend underscores the importance of ensuring that they have a strong system in place to make these connections – whatever the weather may bring.