Stepping up to the plate on overflow shelter

In the grand scheme of city budgeting, $20,000 is a pittance — less than one-hundredth of a percent of what New Haven’s government is expected to spend next year. But this summer, $20,000 may be enough to make the difference between sleeping on the streets and finding overnight shelter for dozens of the city’s homeless this summer.

The Overflow Men’s Shelter is not a city agency, but in recent years, it has been kept open an extra four months with the help of a $40,000 matching grant from City Hall. With New Haven facing its tightest budget in years, that grant has now been slashed. And although the city has reversed its original plan to scrap the grant entirely — choosing instead to give $20,000 — the shelter is now expected to stay open for only seven or eight months instead of 10.

We are, of course, disappointed that the city cannot continue to provide a full $40,000 — not least because the shelter’s organizers say the city’s matching funds have played a large role in encouraging private donations. But city leaders have rightfully pointed out that they are without many alternatives at the moment, forced to consider further spending cuts just as New Haven residents are up in arms about another tax increase. We would like to see City Hall do what it can to find the additional $20,000, but it is hard to vilify it for failing to do so.

Where, then, should the burden fall? Well, to begin with, how about on us? Respect Line, a group including both Yale students and the local homeless, has made an admirable effort to raise money to close the funding gap, and served as a strong advocate for keeping the shelter open. But it seems as though the entire local community — and particularly, Yale’s community — now has an opportunity to come together and work toward raising enough money to fund the shelter’s summer operations. Between local businesses and community groups, Yale students and faculty, and city residents, we hope the activism of Respect Line and others can spur enough in donations to keep the shelter open.

After all, the city and its residents — ourselves included — have a moral obligation to see that New Haven’s neediest are not forgotten. At the same time, it is clearly in the interest of both the city and the University to find temporary housing for the homeless. Forcing the homeless onto the streets at night is costly in its own right, requiring additional money spent on hospital care or policing. And even the most cynical would acknowledge that the sight of the homeless forced to sleep on sidewalks or on the Green is a step backward for a city and a university attempting to create a safer, more vibrant New Haven.

No one expects $20,000 to solve the problem of homelessness in New Haven, and keeping an overflow shelter open only addresses the short-term problems facing the city’s poorest. But the idea that — in the midst of a growing University and a growing city — a homeless shelter must close this summer for lack of $20,000 is one that should put us all to shame.

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