In light of her upcoming re-appointment to the New Haven Homeless Advisory Commission on Monday, Beth Reisfeld ’09, the co-coordinator of the Yale Hunger and Homelessness Action Project, sits down with the News to discuss the state of homelessness in the Elm City. Created in 1999, the commission recommends potential solutions to city homelessness directly to the Board of Alderman and Mayor John DeStefano Jr.
Q: How has the homeless pattern in New Haven shifted during the recession?
A: There are a lot of economic refugees. There have always been people struggling with homelessness that stems from substance abuse or mental illness, and those folks continue to struggle. Advocates typically call this population the “chronically homeless.” But there is a growing subset of people who are being taken down by the recession. Many of them have jobs and families, but they are finding that their paychecks just aren’t getting them through the month’s rent anymore. In addition, we’re seeing that many tenants are being kicked out onto the street because their landlords are defaulting on mortgage payments and the houses are being foreclosed.
Q: The state started negotiations over the final budget Monday. What do you think about prioritizing homelessness initiatives in the budget?
A: I don’t know very much about the day-to-day details of the negotiations, but we are hoping that the state will consider revising the preliminary budget issued by Gov. Rell earlier this year. As far as homelessness is concerned, the most major of the cuts would affect a permanent supportive housing initiative called Next Steps. Permanent supportive housing, which puts homeless folks in their own apartments and provides them with visiting case management services, is the most effective strategy that we know of for combating chronic homelessness. Shelter Now and the Yale Dems are working hard to get House Bill 5071 passed, which would reinstate the Next Steps funding. We’re all very excited about that prospect.
Q: Having served on the Homeless Advisory Commission since last fall, what directions do you think homelessness initiatives should take in the coming year? What sort of projects will you prioritize?
A: The commission has taken on its own initiatives as it has gotten more and more mature over the years, but its primary role is to steward New Haven’s homelessness services. It has been doing its best to anticipate the problems that the city will face and to respond pre-emptively, by facilitating fundraising initiatives or voicing support for particular policies on the local and state level. Most exciting for me is that it brings together, on a monthly basis, all of the folks in New Haven who are passionate about this issue: providers, consumers, advocates, municipal officials and students. I hope that the commission continues to serve as a civic forum in this regard, and expect that it will.