Activists fight proposed Green regulations

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Photo by Mason Kroll.

Homeless residents in New Haven may soon have more difficulty finding a place to sleep, as proposed regulations to the city’s park ordinance would close the New Haven Green at 10 p.m. and prohibit people from sleeping there overnight.

Led by Amistad Catholic Worker and Yale Divinity School student group Seminarians for a Democratic Society, a coalition of advocacy groups and individuals are organizing to oppose the amendments, which City Corporation Counsel Victor Bolden proposed to the Board of Aldermen in December. The amendments were suggested in reaction to the Occupy New Haven movement after occupiers were forced to leave the New Haven Green. The purpose of the amendments was to expedite the process of removing protestors from the Green, but activists are now concerned that these amendments, if passed, will be detrimental to the homeless population that sleeps on the Green.

“Homelessness in New Haven is severe and I’d like to see more positive and productive steps taken to help the homeless rather than criminalizing them,” said the Reverend Vicki Davis of the Trinity Church on the Green, which holds outdoor services and provides free lunch every Sunday for the increasing number of people she has noticed staying on the Green.

The coalition held a press conference on Friday to raise awareness of the issue, featuring testimonies from activists, homeless and formerly homeless people who sleep on the Green. Major news outlets such as NBC, Fox and the New Haven Independent were in attendance, as was Ward 9 Alderwoman Jessica Holmes who is on the Legislative Committee.

“The city, Yale and downtown merchants don’t want to see poverty and expression of free political speech so close to their front doors,” said Chris Garaffa, a member of the Act Now, Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER) coalition and an organizer of the press conference on Friday.

The Proprietors of the Green, a private nonprofit, has owned the Green since 1805. Since the Green is owned by a private entity, these proposed regulations raise the question of whether the city government has the power to enforce regulations on the Green. In the ruling that evicted the occupiers in April 2012, U.S. District Judge Mark Kravitz expressed doubt about whether city ordinances could be enforced on private property. Despite this legal question, the Board’s Legislative Committee will soon meet to decide on whether the amendments should move forward through the legislative process.

In a statement to the New Haven Register on Sunday, Laurence Grotheer, Mayor Toni Harp’s spokesperson, said that the proposal was made during former Mayor John DeStefano’s administration and that Harp will respond to the issue as it develops. Though the ordinances may have adverse impacts on homeless, the amendments would give the Green the same regulations as many other city parks.

The coalition at the press conference protesting the new ordinances had representatives from La Unidad Latina en Acción, Women Organized to Resist and Defend, Queer Solidarity and St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. In addition to the press conference, there is an online petition to oppose the ordinance amendments that has the support of 412 people.

The activists plan to inform and lobby legislators, including Ward 1 Alderwoman Sarah Eidelson ’12 whose jurisdiction includes the Green. Eidelson could not be reached for comment.

Garaffa said that many people end up having to sleep on the Green because beds in shelters are in short supply and often must be purchased for a small fee.

For people without a job or who are unable to work due to mental or physical disability, he said, staying in a shelter may not be affordable.

“Shelters are a temporary solution to the permanent issue of homelessness in New Haven, which comes a lot down to a lack of jobs and healthcare,” said Sarah Raven, another organizer and a member of the Amistad Catholic Worker.

Two previously homeless New Haven residents, who spoke to the News on the condition of anonymity, also expressed concerns about the new ordinance.

They said that due to the Green’s relative safety and centrality many people do not feel comfortable sleeping any place else. They added that shelters stop admitting people after a certain time in the night.

“If you don’t want homeless people out here then help them, don’t just move them somewhere else,” said a formerly homeless resident who for a period slept on the Green every night. “A majority of the people here after 10 are homeless and have no other place to go. This is going to hurt them.”

Instating a 10 p.m. closing time for the Green would be an inconvenience for any New Haven resident walking through downtown late at night, Garaffa said.

According to the Yale Hunger and Homelessness Action Project, 700 New Haven residents are homeless on any given day.

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