Yale students, the homeless and other city residents gathered in front of City Hall yesterday evening to protest a recent cut in funding to the Overflow Men’s Shelter, a decision which could force numerous homeless men onto the streets for the summer months.
The shelter, which provides rooms, meals, showers and counseling for up to 75 men each night, relies on private contributions and a government sponsored grant-match program to stay open during the summer months. This year, the city government will offer matching grants of up to $20,000, a 50 percent decrease from the funding provided in past summers.
Rob Smuts ’01, the mayor’s deputy chief of staff, said the city, which provides spends more money to combat homelessness than any other city in Connecticut, has to work within certain financial constraints.
“We’re committed to funding homelessness services, and we do so more than any other place in the state,” Smuts said. “We can’t fund every worthwhile request.”
David Tian ’07, co-coordinator of the Yale Hunger and Homelessness Action Project and principal organizer of the protest, said he hopes the demonstration would pressure the city government into reconsidering the amount of funding offered and increase public awareness of the current situation facing the shelter.
“We recognize the fact that the city does a lot to help the homeless people and we totally appreciate that,” said Tian. “But providing basic shelter for 75 otherwise homeless men should be prioritized.”
But other protesters did not give the city as much credit.
“What they don’t tell you is that they are still getting the same 1.4 million [dollars] from Hartford that they always have,” said Elizabeth Walker, a local resident and artist. “They’re just choosing not to give it to the shelter.”
Walker said she attributes the cut of funding not to the lack of money, but because of “embarrassment” over New Haven’s large homeless population.
“Here we are, home to one of the most beautiful and important universities in the world, and in the spring months, police have to herd homeless people away from doting Yale parents,” said Walker. “It’s seen as an embarrassment … they want to appear inhospitable to it.”
Chad Mansfield, who currently lives on the streets in New Haven and frequently uses the showering facilities at the overflow center, said he fears that the potential closure of the shelter will cause an influx of homeless men onto the New Haven Green.
“If you looked over there last summer, you would have seen it covered in blankets and tents with people sleeping everywhere,” said Mansfield.
Mansfield said he believes that the current situation is an opportunity for DeStefano to show his commitment to fighting homelessness.
“We all want to get out of this situation,” he said. “Nobody asked to be living in a shelter. What we need is a hand up, not a hand out.”