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Shelter Ruckus Left Him Cold

Helen Ubiñas

December 13, 2009

Considering all the drama surrounding the no-freeze homeless shelter proposed for downtown Hartford's Center Church, I figured the Rev. Paul Goodman would be relieved to have the whole soap opera behind him.

After some downtown business owners and residents cried that the temporary men's shelter would kill economic prosperity, warehouse sex offenders and otherwise make them very, very unhappy, the governor stepped up and offered a state owned building on Lafayette Street.

Good news, right?

"Honestly," Goodman said, lowering his voice as if not wanting the Big Guy to overhear what was coming next.

"I'm pissed."

(Is it wrong to revere a man of the cloth for using the p-word? Because seriously that moment almost made me want to go back to church.)

A few things irked my new favorite pastor: the unnecessary mental and moral gymnastics he and parishioners were forced into as they weighed the humanity of the shelter against their safety concerns.

And the hypocrisy of the decision (he found out about second-hand) to put the shelter elsewhere.

Boiled down, it just wasn't right that one part of the city got a pass on having to deal with burdens forced on so many others.

"My mother always said, 'Don't ask anyone to do anything you wouldn't do yourself.'"


Given the loud and sometimes vitriolic opposition to the downtown site, you might think the new location at the old Second Church of Christ was far from visitors' fragile eyes.

Think again.

Turns out the Lafayette Street building is less than a mile from the originally proposed Center Church site and it's wait for it, wait for it across the street from the Bushnell theater. You couldn't put homelessness more in suburbanites' faces if you tried.

Yet, not a peep of opposition was expressed.

So walk me through this, I asked Mike Zaleski, head of the downtown business improvement district. How is this new site better?

It's not right in the heart of downtown, Zaleski pointed out.

True — it's a whole 1,728 Helen strides (I counted) from the old site .

And more important to the indulged downtowners still floating false statistics about the number of sex offenders who'd use the shelter, it's surrounded by out-by-five state facilities. And bonus close to the state Capitol police and state police barracks.

"There's really no good location for a homeless shelter," a somewhat-beleaguered sounding Zaleski said as I pressed for some logic.

Oh, I don't know about that, Mike.

Still puzzled by the lack of noise over a site so close to the controversial old one, I headed to the shelter Friday as it opened for the season.

The homeless men who'd undoubtedly be looking to get out from an especially cold night hadn't found their way to the shelter yet. But employees from the Immaculate Conception Shelter had cozily set up a room in the striking old church for their arrival. Beds and blankets covered the floor. And a donated warm meal was on the way.

As I left, I had to admit that the critics of the old site were right about one thing: The Lafayette location was nicely shielded by state buildings.

But just beyond them was an apartment building. And only a few blocks away were not one, but two Frog Hollow elementary schools.

Another neighborhood — except with a lot less money and clout than their downtown neighbors.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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