Joe Murphy says his coat is warm enough to spend a night under the Prospect Street bridge. But he would rather be back at Columbus House, a homeless shelter in New Haven’s Hill neighborhood.
“You have to fight to get in,” Murphy said. “But boy was it lovely; I slept like a baby.”
Despite its excellent reputation, Columbus House has received two eviction notices in the last year, stirring speculation that it will need to find a temporary home. Now, city officials say it will not be forced to move before a new multimillion-dollar facility is ready.
The groundbreaking ceremony for the new facility, located at 586 Ella T. Grasso Blvd., will take place today. The site will provides 29,000 square feet for the homeless, almost three times more than the current facility.
Since 1982, Columbus House has been a tenant of Sacred Heart Church at 200 Columbus Ave., using an old convent to house a 52-bed shelter. As the church’s programs have expanded, however, there has been increasing pressure for the shelter to leave.
As recently as this summer, the relationship between the shelter and Sacred Heart has been tense. But now, while there is still no concrete deal between the two, the atmosphere has changed.
Alison Cunningham, executive director of Columbus House, now says the possibility of eviction has become more remote.
“We are currently on hold with Sacred Heart,” Cunningham said.
Columbus House also operates New Haven’s 75-bed emergency shelter on Cedar Street. Local politicians have taken an interest in making sure the organization runs smoothly and continuously.
“As far as I know, the church will allow Columbus House to stay until its new facility is completed,” Alderman Ben Healey ’04 said. “The church asked Columbus House to move several times in the past [four] years.”
Last February, the shelter bought the former Connecticut School of Electronics on Ella T. Grasso Boulevard. The building needs extensive renovations before the shelter can move.
Cunningham says the refurbishment will not be finished until May 2002.
The new facility will roughly double the number of beds, to 101, and will have room for daytime social service programs. It will also be closer to local employment offices.
Benita Singh ’04, the political action coordinator for the Yale Hunger and Homelessness Action Project, said the shelter will have more space for women.
“They had problems finding beds for women in the past,” Singh said.
But there is still concern about the availability of housing for the homeless this winter. Local activists are worried that this year will be particularly hard on the resources of area shelters.
“There will be a big influx [to shelters] as people come off welfare rolls,” said Cathy de la Aguilera ’04, a member of Respect Line, an advocacy group for the homeless.
Columbus House’s expanded shelter will not open until the spring. Nevertheless, Healey says the city government remains committed to solving the homelessness problem.
“While we actively hope to move people from homelessness, we will continue to fund the necessary services to help people find food and housing,” he said.