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Too much focus on few complainers

By Kenton Robinson

Publication: The Day

Published February 05. 2013 4:00AM

I write in response to the Feb. 2 front-page article "Homeless: Shelter gives cold shoulder," regarding the no-freeze room at the homeless shelter. I write not to defend the shelter but to defend the honor of the 90 percent of our guests your article, by omission, libeled.

But first, a quick history. Seven years ago, when the city operated the shelter, it did not open until November, and it closed at the end of March. Many are the nights in October and April when temperatures drop below freezing, and in 2006 two homeless men - first Bill Walsh, then Danny Worobel - froze to death in the woods.

Those unnecessary deaths galvanized the community and ultimately led to the creation of the New London Homeless Hospitality Center. Since November 2006 we have been open seven days a week, 365 days a year. Our fundamental mission is to ensure that such deaths never happen again.

But our efforts go far beyond that. Besides beds and food, we provide a host of services to help our guests get back on their feet and housed. Ninety percent of those guests are good people, people who stay with us without causing problems for others and are grateful for the services we provide.

But there are a handful of guests whose behavior is antisocial. Were they given the run of the shelter, they would make life miserable for the other 90 percent. These are the guests who threaten and bully the other guests and staff members. These are the guests who start fights.

These are the guests who end up in the no-freeze, where we give them food, warmth and a mat with a pillow and a blanket on the floor. The no-freeze isn't supposed to be pleasant; it's purpose is to keep these guests, regardless of how unpleasant they may be, alive.

My problem with The Day's article was that it was fundamentally unbalanced. By failing to interview any of our other guests, you've given the public the impression that all our guests are like the fractious few who end up in the no-freeze room. And that is to libel the 90 percent of our guests who are a pleasure to know and serve.

I would like to invite The Day to spend some time at the shelter. Spend an evening with us. Spend an evening in the no-freeze. Meet reality.

Kenton Robinson is the community engagement manager for the New London Homeless Hospitality Center. He was also formerly a staff writer for The Day.

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