Last night’s rally for the homeless, the second in two weeks, was much like the previous one, occurring in the same place and promoting the same message.
Nearly two weeks after the city temporarily closed its overflow shelter and homeless advocates set up dozens of tents on the New Haven Green, protesters said last night that Mayor John DeStefano Jr. has not yet responded to their demands to reopen the shelter immediately.
The nearly 60 homeless people and advocates for the homeless at City Hall appealed to the mayor, who was not present, with candles in hand. Protesters also built a shanty out of cardboard boxes — a symbol, they said, of their struggle to find shelter.
City officials have said that they closed the overflow shelter and instituted a new length-of-stay policy at New Haven’s other shelters in an effort to move more homeless towards independent living. Furthermore, officials said the state has cut municipal aid, making the city’s $1.4 million commitment to homeless services difficult to maintain.
The overflow shelter is typically open only from November to April, but it was kept open through the summer because of high demand.
“[New Haven] should be shifting money to help people get on with their lives and not just warehousing them,” said Alderman Ed Mattison, the director of the South Central Behavioral Health Network.
Gary Spinner, the chairman of the city’s Homeless Advisory Commission, said that the homeless who have substance abuse problems can check into treatment centers for help. And a report recently released by HAC stated that over one-third of the occupants of the city’s shelters were from surrounding towns and neighborhoods that did not offer as high a level of social services as New Haven.
But homeless advocates said that the city has enough money to keep the overflow shelter open and that homeless people deserve more notice than a few days to find alternative housing. For now, many say sleeping bags on the Green, hot cider and Subway sandwiches — provided by the Yale homeless advocacy group Respect Line — are their only option.
“The people here simply need shelter,” said Elizabeth Walker, a local artist and activist, at the rally last night. “They are human beings, children of God, just like everyone else.”