While most Yalies pass homeless New Haveners on their way to class, a campus group gave their interactions with the homeless more thought at a panel on Monday night.
The event, entitled “Can You Look Me in the Eye?” and sponsored by the Yale Hunger and Homelessness Project, featured four panelists and attracted 70 students and New Haven residents to Linsly-Chittenden Hall. Panelists from local organizations and in local politics offered their opinions on how students should interact with the homeless people they encounter around campus.
“Treat them like humans — a handshake goes a long way,” said Ron Dunhill, an outreach worker at the Cornell Scott Hill Health Center. “Don’t give them money but if you can, maybe offer them a good meal. Take them to the Salvation Army.”
Dunhill was joined by Ward 22 Alderwoman-elect Jeanette Morrison, Pete Cox from the South Central Behavior Network and health specialist Megan Melamed from Columbus House, all of whom agreed that ignoring the homeless is never the answer.
According to Melamed, the homeless rate across the country has increased over the past year, as has the percentage of homeless women.
After discussing trends in homelessness, the panel explored the challenges facing homeless men and women beyond those that students may observe as they traverse the New Haven Green.
“We have folks that wake up and hang out on the Green. We have folks that really try to work on their mental illnesses,” said Melamed of the people she works with in the Columbus House. “We also have some that go to work everyday. It depends on where the person is … in their life and that changes day to day.”
The panelists agreed that it is currently harder for those who do not have a mental disease or addiction to receive help because more charities focus on these demographics.
Though some audience members said they wished the speakers had been more specific about the issues homeless people face, McLane Ritze ’14 said the talk helped her better understand how to approach passing a homeless person on the street.
“[Homelessness] faces us every day, it’s all around us, and we just blow past it,” said Ritze. “It’s good to hear that you can recognize them by giving them a handshake or buying them a meal.”
But some New Haven residents in the audience said they wanted Yale students to contribute more than a handshake. One woman who was once homeless in New Haven said teaching homeless people how to handle their finances was the best way to help them.
YHHAP co-director Amalia Skilton ’13, who moderated the discussion, said the group held a similar event in 2009, but the Monday night panel attracted three times as many attendees. She added that about 10 other campus groups were involved to help boost the turnout.
Though the group’s two main focuses are direct community service and fundraising for the homeless and hungry, Skilton said, YHHAP aimed to use the event to offer students learning opportunities on homelessness in New Haven since there are currently no classes at Yale that focus on the issue.
YHHAP sponsors the annual YHHAP fast, which raised over $18,000 for causes related to homelessness last spring.