As springlike temperatures arrive, memories are fading of the coldest days of the year
when the Friendship Center helped people in need at the Warming Center. Located at
57 Arch St., the program was opened in response to the state’s Cold Weather Protocol
put in place on Dec. 16, 2020.
From Jan. 4 until it closed on March 31, the Triage Center was open every night from
6 to 10 p.m. to triage individuals with shelter from the cold, a hot beverage and
snacks, and warm clothing. Safety protocols were followed when entering – clients’
temperatures were taken and masks were provided, if needed. The center served up to
13 people each evening.
A shelter divergent specialist was available on site to meet one-on-one to determine what immediate services could be addressed. New Britain EMS Outreach Team also used the location to introduce their program and offer services to those in need.
When the Cold Weather Protocol was first ordered, the Friendship Center volunteered
to be on call for the entire access network. If someone called 211 and reported they
were outside, 211 called Sarah DiMaio, director of programs, who coordinated between
three locations, The Red Roof Inn and First Lutheran Church in New Britain and First Congregational Church in Bristol. If people could not get a ride, transportation services were provided in coordination with Journey Home.
To cover the necessary staff at the warming center and 24/7 services at the motel, the
Friendship Center hired about a dozen people. Clients were evaluated each day to
determine needs and solutions.
At the Red Roof Inn , individuals received a continental breakfast and approximately 35
lunches and dinners were provided daily by four restaurants: Mofongo, My Wife Didn’t Cook, Maria Soul Latin and Sweetwater Juice Bar & Deli.
Barbara Lazarski, interim executive director, said addressing the needs of people this
winter was particularly challenging because of COVID-19, mandatory reduced census of
the shelter and other factors. Through CARES Act funding, the Friendship Center was
able to adjust and implement other options for warming, providing triage, and housing.
In retrospect, the community approach enabled families, individuals and veterans to
continue to receive the emergency services and long-term solutions that they needed –
even during a pandemic.