One week after the city of New Haven closed its overflow shelter, a shadowy cluster of nearly 20 tents sits on the east side of the New Haven Green, each tent the makeshift roof over a homeless person’s head. Last night was the protesters’ eighth night there, and organizers said the sleep-out will continue for as many nights as necessary until the city reopens its emergency shelter.
Members of the Yale Homeless and Hunger Action Project and Respect Line, a part of YHHAP, recently sent a letter to the city and appeared before the Board of Aldermen Tuesday night to rally support.
Citing a new push to move more homeless towards independent living, the city decided to close its overflow shelter and institute a new length-of-stay policy at its shelters that now requires occupants who wish to stay in any city-funded shelter for more than 30 days to develop an action plan.
The controversy over what to do with the overflow shelter, which has typically been closed from April to November but was kept open because of record demand, continues to mount. It illustrates a split in philosophy between those homeless advocates who believe that keeping the shelters open is an immediate need that the city must not compromise and those who believe that the city must make the difficult and thankless decision to lessen people’s dependency on shelters by cutting beds.
New Haven spends $1.4 million on its homeless services — more than all other Connecticut municipalities combined — but city officials say New Haven is “tapped dry” as the state cuts aid to Connecticut towns. Making the financial situation tighter is the city’s unwillingness to raise property taxes, its only other source of income.
But homeless advocates insist that the city must hold to its no-freeze policy, which promises shelter to every New Haven resident.
“While we understand that the city is faced with a budget crisis, given the gravity of the present situation as well as the city’s demonstrated commitment to this population, we urge the city to find the monetary resources to keep the shelter open,” states YHHAP’s letter, which is addressed to Community Services Administrator Sheila Allen-Bell.
On the other side, Alderman Ed Mattison, the director of the South Central Behavioral Health Network, commended the city for making the necessary decision to shift its very limited resources away from funding shelters and towards case management and treatment.
“We didn’t get into this work to run prisons without walls. All of us feel it’s not that we want to throw people out of homeless shelters,” Mattison said. “We fell that the city needs to — shift out emphasis away from just putting a roof on people’s heads and doing something useful.”
But Steven Osserman ’02, an organizer with Respect Line, said the homeless have an immediate need for shelter that should not be compromised under the guise of a new long-term policy.
“Kicking people out is not going to help the situation,” Osserman said.