Middletown warming center for the homeless closes early; director to meet with city manager

A warming center for the homeless that was scheduled to remain open through April has closed early, according to its director.

The warming center closed Friday night, said Erica Norton, executive director of the Healing Center that contracted with the city of Middletown to operate the center.

Norton said she met with her lawyers today and plans to meet with acting City Manager Paul Lolli on Tuesday.

She didn’t want to discuss why she met with her lawyers.

Norton has expressed frustration with how the warming center was being reimbursed for its expenses. She has used some money from her for-profit business to pay some of the bills at the warming center, she told the Journal-News last month.

“This has been really different,” she said. “Really stressful. More problems than it’s worth.”

The warming center was supposed to remain open through the end of April, according to a contract that was approved by Middletown City Council in January. Council approved spending no more than $95,000 to operate the center for three months.

The center was open from 5 p.m. to 7 a.m. seven days a week. That means the cost of operating the center was about $1,000 a day, according to the contract. The center averaged 25 to 30 people a night, she said.

The total cost of the Grove location will be fully covered by the city’s special American Rescue Plan Act allocation of approximately $1.3 million that must be used to house the homeless or those in imminent threat of being homeless, according to city officials.

Mindy Muller, president and CEO of Community Development Professionals, said her company has contracted with the city to oversee the distribution of its Community Development Block Grant funds.

She understands some of Norton’s frustrations.

“It’s difficult to work with federal dollars,” Muller said.

She said “a significant level of source documentation” must be provided before federal funds can be spent.

Muller said in an email to Norton and city officials that there are protocols in place to ensure federal funds are spent appropriately. Neither the city nor Community Development Professionals has the ability to waive these requirements, she wrote.

“Federal money just has many strings and we don’t have a choice but to ensure compliance with the regulations,” she wrote. “Should payment be processed outside of adhering to CDBG regulations the city would incur a finding in a HUD audit and be required to reimburse HUD for the amount out of compliance.”

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