Kicking off their fight against homelessness, the Yale College Democrats held a rally at the aldermanic chambers of City Hall on Saturday morning.
Despite rain that kept attendees indoors, students waved posters and pounded their fists against tables to support speeches from state officials and students who advocate supportive housing for the homeless. Done in collaboration with Yale’s Shelter Now organization, the hourlong rally publicized the Dems’ endorsement of Housing Bill 5071, which calls for additional funds to expand supportive housing.
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State Rep. Ken Green, who authored the bill, Mayor John DeStefano Jr., and state Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield spoke — along with Shelter Now leaders Gabe Zucker ’12, James Cersonsky ’11 and David Lee ’10 — on behalf of transitional shelter for the homeless. But despite the enthusiasm, many state legislators eyeing funding proposals with scrutiny maintain that Connecticut’s financial reality means any improvement will be cursory at best.
The rally’s participants painted supportive housing as a citizen’s right, not a responsibility. In his opening remarks, Dems lobbying coordinator Ben Stango ’11 railed against the state’s tax policies that favored wealthy citizens, deeming it a “moral imperative” to develop supportive housing.
“We demand that the government and legislators face this head on,” he said. “Every man, woman and child has the right to a home.”
DeStefano added to that sentiment, saying he thought the city of New Haven is at its best when it is a welcoming community.
“It’s not just the idea of giving the homeless a place to live,” he said, “it’s giving them a chance.”
But the state’s $8.8-billion budget deficit casts doubt on the sustainability of the homelessness bill. Debate has ensued at the state level as to whether funds should be allocated to alleviate present homelessness or whether the money would be put to more use via creating new affordable housing statewide. As it stands, Zucker said, Bill 5071 is not a long-term solution.
“The bill is crafted for this year,” he said. “It’s more conservative than it might be in a different fiscal climate.”
And the Dems are concerned that the budget is not as sweeping as it needs to be.
“I think the main hurdle is that legislators will take a short-term view of the issue,” Andrew Feldman ’11, communications director for the Dems, said.
Zucker said it is still important for the bill to be passed.
Stango said the Dems’ next steps toward supportive housing will be sending letters, making phone calls, meeting with state officials, raising money and working on building a coalition. And in his remarks, Holder-Winfield said that state representatives appreciated this kind of advocacy.
“We are insulated,” he said. “We need you up there telling us what you need.”
But he also called for the Yale Democrats to understand the “interconnectedness” of homelessness with other issues — such as the prison system and the effects of prisoner re-entry — and the uniqueness of the situation in different areas. He said that being knowledgeable about different communities’ situations will only help them advocate for supportive housing.
Despite the difficulties, many attendees said they were appreciative of the Dems’ efforts. Bonita Grubbs, director of Christian Community Action, a nonprofit which operates a family shelter for the homeless, said that even though the Yale Democrats are just students, their work is important.
“It matters what anyone is doing for the cause of trying to help people who are homeless,” she said.
Stango said the need for supportive housing is one of two issues the Dems chose to endorse this year — the other being health care.