NEW BRITAIN - Ada Platt was thinking in early May that it was a godsend her family had been offered a spot in a private homeless shelter on West Main Street, run by Visions of Faith Outreach Ministry.
“She said she had a shelter, but she would move us into a basement until she could get us housing,” Platt said of Deborah Copeland, the woman who managed the ministry’s programs.
Less than a month later, Platt is struggling to find an apartment while continuing to pay daily for a hotel room as city officials comb through the building looking for zoning violations.
The operation had no permits for a change of use to the commercial building, no certificate of occupancy for use as a ministry or a shelter, and no oversight by any city, state or federal agency that deals with homelessness.
The building was condemned Wednesday.
Visions of Faith Outreach Ministry was listed on the 211 website as a place where women and children could seek emergency shelter, but those in need had to call 211 to receive an intake appointment through the state’s Coordinated Access Networks.
Officials at 211 removed the listing Tuesday after The Herald called to ask if the shelter had been vetted or monitored.
Visions of Faith had been on the 211 list for four or five years, but there were no notations on how it got there or which city entity had vouched for the organization, said Alana Kroeber, director of information services for 211.
There are 60 shelters in the database, officials said Wednesday. Many receive state Department of Housing or federal Department of Housing and Urban Development money or have wound up on the database through recommendation by a municipality that has vetted the shelter, Kroeber said.
The database is updated annually, but there is no one state agency that licenses or has oversight over all shelters in the state, she said.
“I’m not sure what happened when the programs (through Visions of Faith) were added,” Kroeber said.
The organization receives phone calls from 211 referring clients who need help, Pastor Roslyn Crossdale, who runs Visions of Faith, told The Herald Tuesday. “We bring them in and try to house them until we find housing through grant sources,” she said.
Crossdale said Copeland called and asked if the Platts could stay at the ministry building at 580-582 W. Main St. “The family was under a bridge. It was raining, the children were barefoot,” Crossdale said. “I’m not sure what happened through the rest of the stay.”
Crossdale first called the program “transitional living for women and children who are homeless.” Then she said it was “rapid rehousing,” a state program that provides funding to families to keep them housed until they can afford to house themselves.
Crossdale denied that she was running a shelter, but said she made an exception for the Platts because they were in such dire circumstances.
She was told by the city’s Department of Public Health and the Fire Marshal’s Office Wednesday that code violations had to be fixed and proper permits had to be obtained before 582 W. Main St. could be used as a ministry. The building is for sale and rented to Visions of Faith by an owner in Washington state.
City officials have not been able to contact the owner or the real estate company selling the property.
A HUD representative told The Herald that the ministry has received no money from the city of New Britain or the state Department of Housing.
Copeland was sentenced to six months in jail Wednesday after pleading guilty to charges she had threatened a neighbor with a knife in November.
Copeland told The Herald earlier in the week that she was a survivor of homelessness, rape on the streets and drug addiction. She was trying to turn her life around when she agreed to work with Crossdale at the nonprofit. Copeland said she started work at the shelter on May 1 and pulled Platt’s family from under the bridge a week later.
The problem with Copeland’s story, which Crossdale also repeated to The Herald, is that Platt, her husband, Timothy, and their three children, ages 8, 3, and 1, have never lived under a bridge, according to Platt.
“She told us to tell people that we were living under the bridge,” Platt said. “We were never under a bridge and we never told people that. Our children have shoes. We were staying at the Red Roof Inn.”
At first, the Platts agreed to work for Copeland, doing odd jobs around the building in exchange for payment, Platt said.
But after Copeland gave Timothy Platt $20, she stopped paying them and started demanding money, Ada Platt said.
Copeland said she didn’t ask for money as rent and did nothing but help the couple.
“For someone to look at me, I choose to take babies off the street. The city did know. I was told that we could have three unrelated people,” Copeland said. “Immediately when I came, I did what I could to get them off the street.”
Platt and her family had been living in West Hartford when her husband lost his job, Platt said. They started living day to day at the Red Roof Inn a few months ago and had resorted to posting on New Britain Facebook groups, asking for food for the children.
She was told by a friend that Joe Ganim’s gubernatorial campaign was having a party at The Kitchen downtown and there would be free food. It was at the campaign party that the Platts met Copeland, who agreed to take them into her program.
Platt said Copeland owes the couple $100 for the work they did while they stayed in the building and more money for the “match” program that she arranged for her husband.
Under that program, Timothy Platt did work at The Kitchen and was paid by the restaurant. Copeland was supposed to match the amount he was paid but never did, she said.
The family left the “shelter” Thursday after Copeland called police because someone was drinking - a violation of shelter rules.
Wednesday morning, Platt was still waiting to get her belongings from the building and still scraping together money to stay at the Red Roof Inn when an agency stepped in and agreed to pay for the hotel room for a week.
“I don’t even know how I feel at this point,” she said. “We’re trying to figure out what’s best for the family. We’re basically in survival mode.”
Lisa Backus can be reached at 860-801-5066 or Lbackus@centralctcommunications.com.