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  • ‘God loves the stranger…’

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Milestones

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    ELLICOTT CITY, Md. – The Franciscan Friars at St. Paul Parish in Kensington took part in a little...

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Youth

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  • St. Brigid School honors lunchroom volunteers

    WEST HARTFORD – St. Brigid School turned the tables on its faithful lunchroom volunteers by...

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HARWINTON – Few of us ever think of ourselves as privileged. Until we’re not.

The last light to go out during storm Alfred was the LED digital clock on our DVD player. For half a second after the rest of the house was plunged into darkness on the evening of Oct. 29, the DVD clock glowed 8:32.

My wife Jean and I hunkered down for the night with extra blankets, satisfied that we were as ready as we could be. We had done the laundry; charged the cell phones; and filled jugs with water and cars with gas. We had candles, canned food, flashlights.

Darkness? Bring it on.

But temperatures plunged. Wind whistled. Wet snow bent the lilac and magnolia and cracked the maple.

In the morning, as I gazed at more than 20 inches of snow, I said, "We can’t stay here."

"But there’s no power anywhere."

I bit my lip. "There are ... shelters."

Neither of us liked the idea. Shelters were for ... others. Besides, when I dialed 211 to find the nearest one, I was on hold so long that I had to hang up to preserve my cell phone charge. We turned on the radio and learned that a makeshift shelter was being set up near our home.

A cheerful young woman answered the door, wearing an EMT jumpsuit with a holster for her two-way radio.

"Oh, hi," I said, "our power is out and our house is freezing. Can we hang here for a while?"

"Absolutely!" the woman said. She showed us into a large, open room that was warm and bright, powered by a gasoline generator outside that sounded like an 18-wheeler downshifting for a hill.

A family of four sat at a table, playing Trivial Pursuit. "How many minor league home runs did Babe Ruth hit?" the questioner asked.

An elderly foursome swapped sections of the Sunday paper bearing headlines about the storm’s devastation. I helped a volunteer unfold portable cots. By nightfall, 19 cots had been arranged in rows, as more people, young and old, showed up. Many of us had brought food to contribute to a supper, prepared by the EMT woman and other volunteers.

It all sounds homey and comfy. It is not. There is nothing homey or comfy about being away from your comfortable home, even if home is a small ranch house.

The cots were made of polyester fabric supported by tubular steel and aluminum. They don’t exactly have "sleep numbers" for comfort. The metal tubes bruise your ankles, butt and neck.

At one point, I may have been the only person awake, listening to 18 others snoring in their unique styles. One man sounded like a woodpecker on a hollow apple tree. Another sounded like someone dragging a chair across a cement floor. One woman’s explosive exhalations were like a steam release valve.

How we could sleep at all is a mystery. Elderly hard-of-hearing people stayed up late talking in what they thought were whispers; people two towns away may now know intimate details about their surgeries. The EMT’s squawk box kept rasping about trees down on nearby roads. And the generator kept up a constant growl.

Nobody would possibly want to live in a shelter night after night.

And yet: In Connecticut, on Jan. 27, 2011, there were 3,770 people staying in shelters, according to the annual Point in Time snapshot of homelessness, reported by the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness (CCEH). About 42 percent of these people – which included 496 adults with families and 800 children in families – had never before been homeless. For the year 2010, more than 11,000 people, including more than 1,500 children, spent some time in shelters in Connecticut.

Rent problems, family disputes and domestic violence accounted for about 88 percent of homelessness, but they were not the only causes. They certainly were not the reasons that my wife and I and 17 other people slept on those backbreaking cots on the night before Halloween.

But, as inconvenient as shelters are, they sure beat freezing on the streets or in unheated homes. That’s why a number of shelters in Connecticut receive assistance from the Archbishop’s Annual Appeal, including the Immaculate Conception Shelter, Mercy Housing & Shelter and South Park Inn-Homeless Shelter, all in Hartford; Samaritan Shelter in Manchester; St. Vincent de Paul Homeless Shelter in Bristol and Waterbury; Winchester Emergency Shelter in Winsted; Beth-El Shelter in Milford; Columbus House in New Haven; Shelter NOW in Meriden; and others.

They literally save lives.

But one night was enough for us. A nearby motel had power restored the next night, and there we at least had the added comforts of a hot shower and privacy (but, frankly, not much else). The night after that, a family member got power back and invited us in.

Finally, just 90 hours after our DVD clock faded out, our lights came on. The furnace hummed to life. The refrigerator purred. The dishwasher and washing machine caught up on their assignments.

Once again, we were among the privileged. Only this time, we knew it.

Oh, and Babe Ruth hit only one minor league home run. Amazing, the stuff you learn in a shelter.

 Jack Sheedy is the News Editor of The Catholic Transcript and lives in Litchfield County.

Events Calendar

July 2014
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07:30 PM
Performing Arts Center at Simsbury Meadows, Simsbury, United States
HARTFORD SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA TALCOTT MOUNTAIN MUSIC FESTIVAL: The Music of The Who with Brody Dolyniuk, guest vocalist; Brent Havens, conductor Friday, July 18, 2014 │ 7:30 p.m. [...]
09:00 PM
Our Lady of Victory Parish, West Haven, West Haven, United States
Our Lady of Victory Parish Community will have its annual West Haven Neighborhood Carnival from 6-10 p.m. [...]
12:00 PM
Convent of the Sisters of St. Joseph, West Hartford, West Hartford, Conn., United Kingdom
The annual Tabor House GIANT tag sale/auction/bake sale will take place July 17-19 at the convent of the [...]
Date :  July 18, 2014
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09:00 AM
Doubletree by Hitlon, Bristol, United States
Father Alex Avendano will speak at a Magnificat Breakfast beginning at 9 a.m. July 19 at the Doubletree by [...]
09:00 AM
Convent of the Sisters of St. Joseph, West Hartford, West Hartford, Conn., United Kingdom
The annual Tabor House GIANT tag sale/auction/bake sale will take place July 17-19 at the convent of the [...]
09:00 PM
Our Lady of Victory Parish, West Haven, West Haven, United States
Our Lady of Victory Parish Community will have its annual West Haven Neighborhood Carnival from 6-10 p.m. [...]
Date :  July 19, 2014
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12:00 AM
St. Paul Catholic High School, Bristol, Bristol, United States
A “Fundamental Football Clinic” for players in grades four through nine is planned for the week of July 21 at St. Paul Catholic High School in Bristol.
Date :  July 21, 2014
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12:30 PM
Chippanee Golf Club, Bristol, Bristol, United States
The 15th annual Rev. Robert A. Lysz Memorial Golf Tournament will have a shotgun start at 12:30 p.m. July 31 at [...]
Date :  July 31, 2014

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