Homeless, advocates protest on city Green

Moments after students dispersed from Yale’s Sept. 11 vigil on Cross Campus, a gathering of a different sort — smaller and more motley, with sleeping bags strewn on the grass, banners and an American flag or two — began to convene on the New Haven Green.

With the theme, “Solidarity S11 — Your Great Pain, Our Smaller Suffering,” more than 60 homeless people and advocates for the homeless huddled together on the windblown steps of City Hall Wednesday night to protest the city’s closing of its overflow shelter and its new, tougher policy to limit how long some homeless can stay in its shelters.

The organizers of the vigil had blankets and food ready on the Green for as many as 40 to 50 people, including the homeless and a handful of Yale students, to spend the night in the park to demonstrate the effect of the shelter’s closing.

“We’re here not just to protest and get mad but to provide a place for people to come together so that no one’s sleeping under a bridge,” said Cathy de la Aguilera ’04, an organizer with the homeless advocacy group Respect Line.

The city closed its overflow shelter Tuesday with the intention of reopening it in early November. Community Services Administrator Sheila Allen-Bell said the shelter’s closing is part of the city’s effort to push the homeless harder to get help with the assistance of their case managers.

The city is now requiring occupants who wish to stay in any city-funded shelter for more than 30 days to develop an action plan toward independent living.

But protesters last night accused the city of tightening its shelter policies without providing improved social services to help the homeless reach independent living. Many complained that the shelters’ current case managers had poor attitudes and were unqualified to help them.

“I can understand the spirit of trying to motivate people to get them case managers, but my experience has been [that] there have been so many people who want to meet with case managers but can’t,” de la Aguilera said.

Edward Lopez, who was among the homeless gathered on the Green last night, stood next to the First Church of Christ with other protesters, all of whom complained about the low quality of the case managers at the shelters.

“They’re saying the homeless abuse the system,” Lopez said. “Their solution is kicking everyone out onto the streets. I’m not sure that’s effective therapy.”

The city’s Homeless Advisory Commission found that over one-third of the shelters’ occupants were from surrounding towns and states.

New Haven spends $1.4 million annually on homelessness services, more than any other municipality in Connecticut. City data also show that half the single men in city shelters are substance abusers.

“All the people on the Homeless Advisory Commission are homeless advocates,” said Gary Spinner, the chairman of the commission. “Students are advocates for eight or nine months. In truth, the people on the Homeless Advisory Commission are advocates 12 months out of the year.”

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