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Homeless Shelter Opts To Close Instead Of Accepting People On Drugs, Alcohol

Faced with a state rule that links funding to the admission of people who are actively using drugs or alcohol, a group that runs a homeless shelter in Manchester, Conn., is choosing to close the 40-bed facility. More than half of the shelter's budget reportedly comes from the state.

The Manchester Area Conference of Churches made the decision to turn away $174,000 from the state Department of Housing, the group's executive director, Beth Stafford, tells The Hartford Courant.

The Courant reports:

"Other than in periods of extreme cold or heat, the longtime policy at the Manchester shelter has been to deny admission to people who are drinking and using drugs. MACC Charities and other 'dry' shelters use Breathalyzer tests to screen people.

"The organization lacks the staff and funding to supervise active alcohol- and drug-abusers overnight, Stafford said, and there are concerns about the safety of the two people — a staff member and a volunteer — who manage the place each night."

Emergency shelters that have policies against receiving guests who have been using drugs or alcohol could face similar funding dilemmas elsewhere in Connecticut and the U.S.

"It is estimated that nearly half of all individuals experiencing homelessness, and 70 percent of Veterans experiencing homelessness, suffer from substance abuse disorders," according to the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness.

On The Courant's Facebook page, the top-rated comment is:

"Many of these people have mental illnesses and are self-medicating because they can't get the help they need. They have no medical care and their families can't or don't know how to deal with them. This is just plain sad. This is not the fault or failure of the shelter, it's a systematic failure in how we deal with homelessness."

Other comments praised the shelter's organizers for making sure their workers and volunteers are safe, even as concerns were raised about the fates of those who would be turned away.

The MACC website says, "Our shelter is not a long term shelter. It is meant to be a place where guests can come to rest, recover and begin their journey back to wellness ... The average stay is roughly 15 days and guests are expected to be working on a recovery plan while using our shelter."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.