Downtown with Covid-19: Mental Health, Homelessness, and Drug Addiction

Are we getting stuck up by the Covid-19? 

We knew it was coming. We saw it reaching its long hand out to touch us. Letting you know that this assailant was no longer hiding in the shadows, but in plain sight. We knew at some point that no longer will the Covid hide in the dark. Like a villain in one of those old time black and white movies with the guy at nightime under the tree, “Psst, hey you, come ‘ere, where are you going?” It can also be saying, “Hey, where’s your mask? Is that hand sanitizer in your pocket? Please step back.”

Covid holds us in its clutches, dictating how we will run our society from going to school, going shopping, or just hanging out with friends.  We all have to adjust to the new ‘norms,’ some more than others. 

I remember that first morning when numerous businesses and restaurants either closed or sent workers home to work online because of the Covid. I couldn’t even recognize anyone because of their masks, hoods, glasses. Any other time you think you would be getting stuck up in a robbery.

I always noticed the large population of people experiencing  homelessness in downtown even before I moved down here. Now with the few workers left downtown, it’s mostly the homeless and the downtown residents left. How can anyone ignore people walking aimlessly through the streets of downtown during the Covid-19? 

As I’m walking down Main Street I see a former student from one of the schools I worked in as Head Custodian, Jesse*. This school was for the students that didn’t always fit into the square hole. A troubled young man with mental health issues, homelessness issues, and I’m sure many other issues that were not in the Head Custodians log book or emails. I’ve been seeing him throughout the years. He’s been living in the streets, bouncing in and out of shelters. Since Covid hit, the shelters are now only taking people who are already there, so Jesse had to figure out something else. I asked him, “where are you sleeping at night?”

He tells me that he takes the bus to his cousin’s house in New Britain: “My cousin gets out of work at 8pm so she is usually home by 9pm. Sometimes she leaves the door unlocked so I can sleep in her house. If not, I’m more than welcome to sleep in the hallway of her building, which is what I do.” Jesse  has been from one house to another since he was a young boy. He goes on to tell me that he rarely has enough food to eat and since the Covid there has been more distance between people so very few opportunities to panhandle. “All I’ve had today was a little granola.” It’s nearly 12:30.

Jesse was able to have lunch today.

I went to another place that I knew I would be able to run into some more unfortunate residents without a home to live. St. Patrick and St. Anthony Roman Catholic Church is located on Church and Ann Street. This church has a long history in the city of Hartford for helping the homeless. Always.

There I met two other homeless guys, George* and Frank*. Frank was using the electrical plug outside the church to charge his flip phone. These guys, unlike Jesse, are not from the city. Frank is from Windsor Locks, and has been here in Hartford for over 15 years. George is from Enfield, I have seen him behind my building on several occasions. Yes, I have given him money before.

They had the same story to tell. They are sleeping where they can, sometimes on the bench, or under the underpass. Since the Covid the shelters have closed, or at least stopped taking new clients. George pointed out the new apartments that are slated for college students and said “The shelters are putting people in some local hotels on the Berlin Turnpike and in East Hartford.” I reached out to an organization that is located in Hartford. I wanted to verify that homeless people have been being placed in local hotels. When I called it turned out that the information was accurate. I was told that the shelters are complying with the 6ft rule. “In order to comply with the order from the governor’s office some were sent to these hotels. Since the hotels were empty many homeless were placed there.” This however made me think of the employees at the homeless shelters. That is another story.

I asked George and Frank how they’ve been  eating during the Covid.  Frank answered in a very nonchalant way, “We eat out the dumpster. But there’s less now because the restaurants downtown have closed.”

What I have noticed is that the homeless population is being completely neglected. Many of our homeless in the Downtown area have mental health and self medicated issues which leads many to drug addiction and alcohol abuse. These seem to go hand and hand from my observation. The city has also been developing new apartments in the Downtown area that are not accessible to the homeless or subsidized housing even though the apartments remain mostly empty. In this current administration we have the mayor’s office and city council fighting against the injustice of slum lords. Then on the other side of the table we have the ever powerful finance committee. This committee dictates many new developments that are slated to begin in the city such as the development of new retail around Dunkin Donuts Park, new luxury housing.  This committee, appointed by the mayor, also dictates the market rate and size of apartments in downtown. So why would the mayor fight against the slumlords where many of the impoverished residents live and then appoint this committee to out price the market and dictate housing size? With this formula families that live with mice, roaches, silverfish, and rats will continue to live that way while homeless people are left out of this conversation completely, living under bridges, alleys and shadows.  So many are left out of the new, bright future that the Mayor has planned for the City of Hartford. 

*All names have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.

About the Author: My name is Levey Kardulis life long resident of Hartford and a concerned community activist. I worked for the city of Hartford for 26 years while ensuing that my four children all graduated from Hartford Schools. In the end you will not remember the words of your enemies but the silence of your friends.

Copyrighted by Levey Kardulis. Editorial assistance provided by Megan Brown. This work is part of the “Telling Our Covid Stories” project by the Center for Hartford Engagement and Research (CHER) at Trinity College. 

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