Homeless advocacy group makes trip to City Hall

Members of Respect Line say they are tired of being ignored.

In hopes of getting New Haven to take notice of the homeless, the advocacy group held a press conference Wednesday morning. With reporters from the New Haven Register, the Advocate and Channel 3 News in tow, they entered City Hall to present Mayor John DeStefano Jr. with a position paper and a symbolic lock and key. The lock represents the homeless being shut out of New Haven politics and the key is the solution the mayor can effect by cooperating, said Magni Hamso ’05, a member of Respect Line.

Members of Respect Line, a group composed of Yale students, homeless people and other members of the New Haven community, were especially concerned with the policy that limits the length of stay at a shelter to 90 days.

“We want people to know that this [90-day] policy is pushing people back onto the streets,” Hamso said. “Time limits do not create any sense of stability, and people are more likely to be back at the shelter. Our aim is to work with City Hall to reshape the situation of the homeless.”

The overflow shelter closed six weeks ago and approximately 60 people had to move to the tent city currently located on the New Haven Green.

“Most of the people [in the tent city] get frostbit. They go to [the] hospital and get kicked out because they can’t afford treatment. Now they are here, sick or worse,” said Emmanuel, who goes by “Perry.” Formerly homeless, Perry is now a nurse in West Haven but stays on the Green to show his support.

Jessie Romero, another speaker at the conference, was once homeless and suffering from depression. She said her main concern is the large percentage of homeless people with mental illnesses.

“The 90-day policy will hurt these people,” Romero said. “Lots of people with mental illnesses are discharged from hospitals into the streets.”

In their position paper, Respect Line proposed a baseline emergency shelter in which beds would always be available to anyone in need. They suggested close collaboration with case managers and a system of incentives to motivate the homeless to achieve their goals.

But although critics say the shelter is desperately needed, budget constraints prevent the shelter from being open all year. The overflow shelter was only supposed to be open from November to April, but was open all of last summer. It will reopen Nov. 1, as planned.

“We’re housing the region’s whole homeless population,” said James Foye, public information officer at City Hall. “We’re spending more than any other municipality in the state.”

City Hall security attempted to stall Respect Line’s entrance into the building a number of times. DeStefano was not available, so the group presented the paper and lock to Executive Administrative Assistant Rosemarie Lemley. Lemley declined to comment on the conference.

Hamso said group members were not expecting to see the mayor because, despite calling and e-mailing him for the past seven weeks, they were unable to set up a meeting.

“We’ve met with Respect Line the past few years and they don’t seem to be bringing anything new to the table,” Foye said.

But members of Respect Line insist on being heard.

“It’s really frustrating,” Hamso said. “It’s ridiculous the way they won’t respond to us. How can they know what’s best if they haven’t even considered the point of view of the homeless?”

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