Tent City fights homelessness

Tents covered the New Haven Green Thursday night for a fundraising event planned jointly by New Haven and Yale groups.
Tents covered the New Haven Green Thursday night for a fundraising event planned jointly by New Haven and Yale groups. Photo by Sanjena Sathian.

Elm Street was alive with the sounds of laughter, the strains of a guitar and the shouts of people calling, “Fight the fight — end homelessness!”

The New Haven Green was lit up with vibrant music, baked goods and tents, tents, tents Thursday night as part of Tent City, an event to raise at least $25,000 for New Haven’s sole overflow homeless shelter. The shelter, located on Cedar Street, provides 100 emergency beds for homeless men during the winter. Organizers of Thursday’s event — including members of the Yale Homelessness and Hunger Action Program, Yale’s Office of New Haven and State Affairs and City Hall — set up tents and boxes, calling on local businesses and residents to donate money to keep the overflow shelter from shutting down.

The shelter, run by the Columbus House, faced a $250,000 budget gap in 2008. Last year, the city’s Community Services Administration started the Tent City event and YHHAP launched the “Shelter Now” fundraising campaign to compensate for the $250,000 budget gap, which was caused by state and city budget cuts, YHHAP co-coordinator Gabriel Zucker ’12 said. City Hall spokeswoman Jessica Mayorga said Tent City organizers raised ab0ut $41,000 for the overflow shelter last year.

Zucker estimated that this year’s budget gap is about $150,000. As of Thursday night, local businesses and community groups had pledged just over $38,000, according to the Tent City fundraising Web site.

“Next year we will probably fundraise again,” Zucker said. “But hopefully we won’t be in a situation where … it’ll be disaster.”

New Haven Community Services Administrator Chisara Asomugah, who is also the supervisor for Tent City, said city officials worked on the event to maintain its “no-freeze policy,” which says the homeless should have access to the overflow shelter during the harsh New Haven winter.

Student volunteers from Troup Middle School on Edgewood Avenue served baked treats from Claire’s Corner Copia Thursday night as attendees watched, danced and even jumped on stage during an African drum performance.

Claire’s owner Claire Criscuolo said this is the second year her store has been involved.

“In our mission, right up there with the quality of our food, is the ability to be responsible to the less fortunate,” she said.

The Troup Middle School students were attending to educate themselves about community issues; in addition to helping set up tents and organizing the event, they were there to learn about homelessness, seventh grader Tabitha Sanders said.

“You should be building bigger places for less fortunate people,” Sanders said, as she stood amid a sea of 30 tents.

Also in attendance were several Yalies, including Anna Urdahl ’11 and Colin Adamo ’10, who were representing Safe Haven, an organization that works on writing projects with homeless people in New Haven. They distributed pamphlets that contained poetry and photography created by the homeless. The Tent City organizers staged one of the poems, “The Life of a Homeless Man.”

John Voket, radio talk show host on local pop music radio station Star 99.9, who also performed last year, was one of many in attendance to note how pleasant the night was compared to the freezing-cold sleet attendees endured last year.

“I got off stage and couldn’t even feel my feet,” Voket recalled of his experience last fall. “That really kicked me into action. That was only 30 minutes, I can’t imagine what it’s like to be out in that cold for 12 or 14 hours.”

Yale students can continue to get involved in fundraising for the homeless at The Game on Saturday, when YHHAP will raffle off a football signed by the Bulldogs and their coach, Tom Williams.

Correction: Nov. 29, 2009

An earlier version of this article misidentified the organizers of Tent City. It was started by City Hall’s Community Services Administration, not community activists and student members of the Yale Homelessness and Hunger Action Program.

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