Homeless accuse city of intimidation

As Harvard-Yale weekend approaches, several homeless New Haven residents claim that Yale and city police keep the homeless out of sight during special University events through arrests and intimidation, an accusation police deny.

Margaret Holloway DRA ’80, better known on campus as the Shakespeare Lady, said the homeless are arrested in large numbers during Commencement, Alumni Weekend, Parents’ Weekend and other public events. Several local homeless people said that both New Haven and Yale Police are involved in the arrests, but that Yale Police are mostly responsible.

“When Yale has anything fancy, they keep [the homeless in jail] overnight or however long it’s going on,” Holloway said.

Yale Police Lt. Michael Patten said police do not systematically target the homeless for arrest.

“We don’t do sweeps before major events,” Patten said.

Bill Johnston, the director of programs and operations at Columbus House, a New Haven homeless shelter, said he had never heard of the sweeps, but that he wouldn’t be surprised if they went on.

“Yale views the homeless as a nuisance — They wouldn’t have any problems whatsoever having them removed from the streets of New Haven,” Johnston said. “They don’t want [parents] thinking that their children are dealing with unsavory looking characters.”

New Haven Police Sgt. Rebecca Sweeney said panhandling on public property is illegal in New Haven. But, she said, she did not think there was any organized police effort to keep the homeless off the streets during special campus events.

“I certainly hope not,” she said.

William Huggins, who panhandles on York Street and said he is not homeless, said police usually arrest the homeless for crimes other than panhandling in the days before an event.

“Oh man, they start coming down on everybody,” Huggins said. “They write you up for disorderly conduct.”

Holloway said most of the arrests are made under the pretext that everyone in New Haven is legally required to carry identification, something the homeless rarely have. Sweeney said no such law exists.

Several homeless people said they try to avoid campus during special events because of police intimidation.

“[The police] ask me to stay on the other side of town, which I do,” Holloway said.

Steve, a homeless man who wanted only his first name to be printed, said arrests during special events are common but that the police no longer bother him.

“I’m one of the veterans out there,” Steve said. “They don’t lock me up anymore.”

Steve said he didn’t think the arrests were done on any official level.

“The chief of the Yale Police Department, he don’t give orders like that,” Steve said. “The officers, they take it on themselves.”

Another homeless man, who identified himself only as Jamal, said the arrests are only one aspect of yearlong abuse by police.

“[The police] harass you, shove you around,” he said. “They do a random check just to [mess] with you.”

Holloway said Harvard-Yale weekend would show that her claims are true.

“Come down here and notice,” Holloway said, standing on York Street. “There won’t be [any homeless people] here.”

Patten said similar allegations of homeless sweeps during major events have been raised in the past, but they are unfounded.

A September report by New Haven Continuum of Care estimated that an estimated 3,938 people in New Haven experience homelessness at some point each year.

Homeless people camp out in
Marianna Mancusi-Ungaro
Homeless people camp out in "Tent City" on the New Haven Green last fall. Many of New Haven's homeless claim they are arrested by Yale and New Haven Police and removed from campus before major public events.

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