SHORELINE — The quest of Tabitha “Tabby” Brown to collect and distribute hygiene packs for people on the shoreline who are homeless began with a phone call.
“A man told me he was sleeping in his car and had no gas money,” said Brown, shoreline diversionary specialist for the Beth-El Center in Milford.
Tasked with connecting individuals and families experiencing homelessness and hunger with the services they need, Brown, the former program coordinator at Branford’s Community Dining Room, called the shoreline town where he lived for assistance.
We have to take care of our residents first, she was told. She then rang a neighboring town.
“I was told there was no line item in the budget for homeless people,” she said. She also learned there are no homeless shelters in any shoreline town from East Haven to Old Saybrook. There are no warming centers.
Brown reached out to Bobbi Jo Evans, housing and outreach program manager at BHcare Shoreline office in Branford. In addition to her day job, Evans heads the nonprofit Tail to Paw, which has as its mission “to ensure that no companion animal goes without food, supplies or medical needs due to their owner’s housing status.”
Evans told Brown about the hygiene packs BHcare has been distributing to individuals who are homeless, as well as the hygiene packs Tail to Paw has been giving out to those who have pets.
“That’s what got me started,” Brown said. “It’s one small way to help, to make a difference in even one person’s life.”
See below for a list of what’s needed in homeless packs for individuals and animals.
Evans, who’s been assisting people with housing issues for the last 12 years, said there’s been an uptick in people on the shoreline who are homeless for the first time.
That’s seemingly at odds with a 4 percent decrease in the number of people experiencing homelessness in Connecticut shown in the online statistics compiled by the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness in January 2020. But authorities like the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty have maintained the counts, relying on a single night in January, are “severely flawed.”
Also, as Evans pointed out, those numbers were counted before the pandemic.
“Because of COVID, a lot of people have lost their homes or can’t afford rent due to job loss or decreasing hours, but we’ve also had a population of people who have been homeless for years,” she said.
That population has been largely invisible. “On the shoreline, you won’t see people who are homeless, but they’re there,” she said. “They’re going to be a little more hidden, off the train tracks, in the woods, even on people’s properties, in unused garages.”
In recent months, they’ve become more conspicuous. “I’m actually seeing people in East Haven sleeping outdoors on the Green and in the gazebo,” she said. In other shoreline towns, “they’re at truck stops and in parking lots. They’re sleeping in their cars.”
The issue of homelessness “is almost a taboo thing on the shoreline, but it exists and has for many years,” she said. “There’s been a lot of denial, ‘how could that exist in our town with our beautiful beaches and great schools and safe neighborhoods?’”
For many, “the thought that people could be homeless where they live is frightening, and right now it’s frightening because it could be anyone. It could be your neighbor who becomes homeless. It could be you.”
Evans estimated 90 percent of people who are homeless on the shoreline decline to go to New Haven for a shelter. “It takes them away from the area and resources that they’re familiar and comfortable with,” she said.
There is some support for those enduring or at risk of homelessness on the shoreline.
BHcare administers the FEMA-sanctioned federally funded COACH program, which provides counselors for outreach to the homeless impacted by COVID, as well as mental health assistance for Branford, Guilford, and Madison residents, Evans said. The Branford Counseling & Community Services has programs that provide assistance for Branford residents with rent and utility payments, as well as placement in hotels for residents who lack shelter.
The issue, Evans said, is that “we can provide referrals, we can get people clothing, probably food, we just can’t say, ‘come stay here,’ because it would ultimately end up being in New Haven.”
That’s where the hygiene packs come in, and because of Tail to Paw, they’re not limited to humans.
“A lot of people who are homeless don’t come forward because they’re afraid their animals will be taken away,” Evans said. “We just want to let them know they won’t be. We can help them get their pets fed and vaccinated.”
“With these hygiene bags, we are saying ‘we see you,’” Brown said.
“We are giving them the respect, dignity, and love that every human being, and animal, deserve.”
Items needed for hygiene packs for individuals include shampoo, soap, deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrush, comb, tissue, emery board, nail clipper, hand warmers. Dollar Store recommended.
Items needed for pet hygiene packs include treats for dog or cat, food (small bags for dog or cat), poop bags, and pop-up food bowl. For wishlist, visit https://www.amazon.com/hz/wishlist/ls/3N39N20FN1CBY?ref_=wl_share
For pickup of hygiene bags for individuals, message Tabitha Brown on Facebook.
For pickup of hygiene bags for pets, message Bobbi Jo Innamorato Evans on Facebook or email email@example.com.
For more information on Tail to Paw, visit www.tailtopaw.org.