City to withhold donation to Overflow shelter

About 75 members of New Haven’s homeless population may find themselves sleeping on the streets in the next few months, as the Overflow Men’s Shelter on Cedar Street, which has gradually become a semi-permanent home to many, will likely close during the summer following a city decision yesterday to abstain from its traditional annual donation of $40,000.

Since 2003, high operating costs have forced the shelter to limit its operation from May to October, though fund-raising efforts in previous years have averted complete closure during the summer. In the past two years, fund-raising efforts on the part of “Inside at Night” — a community organization founded by Dwight Hall’s Yale Homelessness and Hunger Action Project, Rev. Ron Rising of the Summerfield United Methodist Church, Ward 10 Alderman Ed Mattison and various city philanthropists — have yielded about $100,000, which, matched by the city’s funds, have kept the shelter open for four out of the six summer months.

But this year’s prospects are looking bleak. In a letter to Mattison yesterday, New Haven Community Services Administrator Sheila Allan-Bell stated that because of budgetary problems, the city is unable to contribute to the cause this year.

“The matching money was really crucial,” said Mattison. “It was much easier to fund raise, because we could tell people that their contributions would be matched by the city. We will certainly not be able to keep the shelter open for as many months this year.”

Mattison said the decision is justifiable, considering the city’s severe budget gap this year that has left city lawmakers scrambling to make cuts. He said city funds are inadequate due in large part to the fact that Connecticut law gives cities very few opportunities to gather revenue, outside of property taxes.

“In other cities, there are local sales taxes, and some even have income taxes,” he said. “Here it all goes to the state government, and we constantly have to beg them for money.”

Jessica Leight ’06, a YHHAP member who has also been involved with the group since its inception, said keeping the shelter open would actually save the city money in hospital fees.

“There needs to be a baseline of shelter care even in the summer,” she said. “Many homeless people are disabled and already vulnerable, and staying outside is a problem. A shelter actually saves community money, as costs of hospitalization are much higher.”

To make matters worse, Rising said demands on “Inside at Night” will increase this year, since Columbus House, the non-profit organization that operates the shelter during the summer, raised the monthly operation fee of the shelter from $30,000 to $35,000 per month, leading to a projected need of $210,000.

But Rising said community groups will continue to provide funding. He said in past years the group has accepted generous contributions from many organizations, including United Way, Yale’s Office of Development and various faith groups, most of which are likely to contribute again. He said New Alliance Bank, a first-time contributor this year, has already provided an impressive $15,000.

In addition, “Inside at Night” will be holding a benefit at Neat Lounge on Temple Street April 15, which, judging from a similar event last year, is expected to be a success.

Rising urged Yalies to offer support in any way they can.

“We are open to donations of any amount, and looking for ideas for fund raisers,” he said.

But even if the group succeeds, keeping the shelter open a few extra months will not solve the problem of homelessness. Magni Hamso ’05, coordinator of YHHAP and one of the founding members of “Inside at Night” said she recognizes the shelter is by no means a long-term solution.

Rising said that unless some affordable housing is created in New Haven, the problem will persist. He said any of the homeless work, and some even work full time, yet an individual working at minimum wage would need to work over 100 hours a week to rent an apartment in New Haven.

Comments