Homeless people are dead to our society, said David Stuckler EPH ’06, a member of the Yale Hunger and Homelessness Action project.
To commemorate their “deaths,” Stuckler helped organize a candle light vigil on Cross Campus, dedicated to the 1,300 people who are currently homeless in New Haven, 400 of whom are children.
The vigil was jointly organized by undergraduate members of YHHAP and Yale School of Medicine students. Magni Hamso ’05, the co-coordinator of YHHAP, said the event was unique in bringing graduate and undergraduate students together for a cause. The event provided an opportunity for Yale students to meet New Haven homeless and hear about their lives, Hamso said.
“It is very humanizing for students to mingle with [the] homeless,” Stuckler said. “It puts a face on the homeless. Students need to realize that they are not just beggars.”
Dave Chandrasekaran MED ’07, a medical student involved in the event, said Yalies have the obligation to help the homeless if they really want to be considered members of the community.
“When we leave this campus to become leaders, we need to remember the people who made up this community,” he said. “They are some of the people that we will have to serve in the future.”
During the vigil, homeless people told students about the daily trials they face. One man who identified himself as Joe Comfort, talked about the prejudice he faces.
“We are harassed by the police, by the people who live here,” he said. “We can’t stand in front of stores, or in front of the ATM. People walk around us, not past us.”
Tracy Moore, a 33-year-old disabled mother living in the Columbus House, a local shelter, criticized the poor treatment of the homeless. She said donated food and clothing never reach the needy, and said the staff is responsible for personal possessions and medicine disappearing.
Yet the biggest problem, Hamso said, is the discharge of homeless people from these shelters. Hamso said the vigil was also organized to draw attention to 50 people recently thrown out of a homeless shelter.
“As it gets colder, it becomes more and more of a problem,” Hamso said. “Last year, a homeless woman, Jill Harkins, lost her bed, and she had to sleep outside in the cold. She died.”
Ward 10 Alderman Edward Mattison LAW ’68, who was involved with homelessness service projects while at Yale, said New Haven spends over $1.5 million each year to improve living conditions for the homeless.
“It is more money than the money spent by all of the other cities of Connecticut put together,” he said.
But despite efforts to help, homelessness remains a serious social problem.
New Haven’s monetary donations are not enough to solve the problem of homelessness, Mattison said. Rising prices of housing and the decrease in the amount of federal housing subsidies exacerbate the problem.
Stuckler said some homeless express hopelessness about their situation.
Eddie Goglaettino, who lost his job a few months ago and has since been homeless, said he doesn’t think the vigil will make any difference.
“People — do not realize that they might only be a couple of paychecks away from being homeless, just like I didn’t before I lost my job,” he said.