NAYAK: Policies to fight homelessness

This fall’s Ward 1 aldermanic campaign has featured good conversation about how to effect positive change for students and other residents of our city. My experience as a policy assistant on the Board of Aldermen has guided my policy-oriented approach to this campaign. I have issued a number of actionable policy proposals and discussed broader issues facing the city. But there is one area that neither I nor Sarah Eidelson ’12 have given proper attention during this race: the issue of homelessness.

At the debate early last week, the Yale Hunger and Homelessness Action Project asked both candidates what we would do about homelessness. I advocated for housing vouchers, and Eidelson called for continued implementation of the 10-Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness.

Neither of us were wrong, but we both could have done better. We both should have given a more realistic answer to the question, and we both should have been better advocates for the issue throughout the race.

After the debate, my campaign team and I spent the week researching homelessness policy and meeting with Yale and New Haven leaders to find the best solutions to this difficult problem. While an incredible amount of work is already being done in the community, many areas are in dire need of improvement, and with an informed and dedicated approach we can keep taking positive steps toward combating homelessness in our city. As alderman, there are a few key steps that I would plan to take to put New Haven on the path to an effective homelessness policy.

Our first short-term priority should be to work together to make good the city’s no-freeze promise to provide a bed for everyone who needs one. We absolutely cannot let people freeze outside on our streets. Only after the appropriate amount of resources exist to guarantee everyone a bed can we turn to the important work of creating more supportive housing.

Second, I will advocate for directing funding to supportive housing programs. Supportive housing is a way to combine housing for the homeless with care and management for those that have other serious health issues like addiction or mental illness. Supportive housing is more cost effective than shelters in the long term and grants residents a degree of independence that makes finding stable long-term employment and housing easier. A number of organizations in New Haven are currently providing supportive housing programs, and as alderman I will facilitate dialogue between these organizations and the Board to make sure that those organizations can continue and build upon the important work they’re already doing.

Third, I will work to ensure that the millions of dollars New Haven receives every year from the federal government in the form of Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) money is directed not only toward supportive housing programs as it already is, but also to programs similar to the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Rehousing Program (HPRP). These types of programs help those families and individuals that are just one paycheck away from having to leave their homes.

Currently, HPRP’s funding is on track to run out in 2012. It will be essential that we continue to fund and implement similar homelessness prevention programs because they help so many New Haven families on the verge of homelessness remain in their homes.

When providing for the homeless becomes a matter of life and death, it is easy to see that decreasing funding for New Haven’s homeless population is not an option.

During the aldermanic debate, Eidelson expressed support for the 10-year program created in 2005 to combat homelessness, which includes plans for increasing supportive housing. However, largely due to the economic recession, that plan is no longer reflective of the current homelessness situation in the city and is of little value for policymakers or stakeholders working on the issue.

We need to throw out the old framework and draft a more realistic and useful plan of action, while obviously still retaining the ideas that are tried and true. I will work with the Board and community leaders to restructure the 10-year plan accurately to reflect the current state of homelessness in New Haven and make it a sustainable goal for future years.

Our next alderman has a responsibility to respond effectively to the current needs of the city. That responsibility is about recognizing when things have gone unsaid. It’s about working with Yale students and city stakeholders to find opportunities for change where the status quo is stagnant. Finally, it’s about serving as an advocate on important issues — like homelessness — whether or not the issue is difficult or politically attractive. That is a responsibility that I do not take lightly, and one I hope to fulfill as alderman.

Vinay Nayak is a sophomore in Davenport College and a candidate for Ward 1 alderman. Contact him at vinay.nayak@yale.edu .

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