Shelter re-opens doors for the fall

During the first rainy days of October, the cold pavement was the only bed available to some of New Haven’s homeless. Now they finally have a dry place to spend the cool autumn nights.

The Overflow Men’s Shelter, located at 232 Cedar Street, opened its doors this week after spending the summer closed due to lack of funding. Budget cuts from the City of New Haven this year and a decrease in donations from local nonprofit organizations left the shelter, which is run by Columbus House, unable to open as scheduled in early September. But the shelter — which can accommodate 75 single men –now has enough funds to keep its doors open until at least May 1, Columbus House Director Alison Cunningham said.

Forty people stayed at the shelter when it opened its doors Monday night, Cunningham said.

The shelter was forced to remain closed after the city cut funding for the shelter this year in half, from $40,000 down to $20,000. Relief efforts for Hurricane Katrina dominated charity efforts in September, further sapping funds for the shelter, said Johnny Scafidi ’01, who chairs Inside at Night, an organization which organizes efforts at Yale and in New Haven to provide relief to the homeless.

“People have a set level of giving each year and every time a natural disaster happens it takes away from that set amount of money,” Scafidi said.

Although the overflow shelter was filled to capacity last winter, the year before as many as 110 people were staying in a space designed to accommodate 75, Cunningham said. She said she still expects the shelter to ease the burden on other shelters operated by Columbus House throughout the city, but does not think the overflow shelter will suffice to accommodate all those who will be seeking shelter in the coming months.

“I’m not horribly optimistic about this year,” Cunningham said.

Now that the Overflow shelter is open, members of Inside at Night said they are beginning to look toward raising funds to keep the shelter open beyond May 1. Plans are already in the works to develop fundraising strategies for next year, Inside of Night member and YHHAP coordinator David Tian ’07 said.

“We look forward to reaching out to residents of local suburbs and also working with local faith-based organizations to coordinate a large grassroots effort to keep the shelter open,” Tian said.

Ward 10 Alderman Edward Mattison, an Inside at Night board member, said he thinks it is important for people to know that homelessness is an on-going issue in their local communities.

“We wanted to say to people that we are taking care of the needs of the homeless here as well as those made homeless by the hurricane,” said Mattison.

Tian encouraged Yale students looking to make a difference in their community to join Inside at Night or YHHAP.

“More student involvement on this issue would allow Inside at Night to strengthen its outreach efforts to the community,” Tian said.

For students looking to take a more hands-on approach, Cunningham said they are welcome to volunteer through Columbus House. She said additional help with ongoing projects eases the burden on the staff.

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