The former occupants of New Haven’s “tent city” can now stay at a recently reopened overflow shelter.
Come spring, however, the tents may return.
On Monday, New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr., New Haven aldermen and representatives of Columbus House, the organization that manages the overflow shelter, held a press conference at the Cedar Street shelter. Speakers described the problems New Haven faces in providing housing for the homeless and said the state of Connecticut should take a larger role.
While the shelter is now open for the winter, it will close again in May, said Alison Cunningham, director of Columbus House.
“People need shelter, but overflow is not a good long term solution,” she said.
Although the tent city is gone, the reopened shelter had not reached its occupancy limit Monday. DeStefano said only six men stayed there on Friday night, citing the issuance of welfare checks at the beginning of the month as the reason. Most nights during the winter, the shelter is full, DeStefano said.
Originally, the shelter was intended to be only a temporary and seasonal shelter, and the city’s contract with Columbus House only calls for it to remain open from Nov. 1 to April 30. During the past year, however, the city chose to keep the shelter open until September.
DeStefano said New Haven has become responsible for the whole region’s homelessness issues and urged the state to take a larger role in solving the problem. He said the city now has 435 available beds in homeless shelters, whereas neighboring towns like Bethany, Branford, Guilford and Hamden have none.
“Only 60 percent of people who come to our shelters give New Haven addresses as their last permanent address,” DeStefano said.
Despite this regional dependence on New Haven’s facilities, the city bears full cost for the shelter’s operation and maintenance, Ward 27 Alderman Philip Voigt said.
“New Haven has a general fund of $1.14 million per year to deal with the problem of homelessness,” Voigt said. “This is inadequate. The state must take a more active role in extending its hand to the people.”
Ward 1 Alderman Ben Healey ’04, a member of the Homeless Advisory Committee, agreed.
“We don’t have the money to keep financing these facilities,” Healey said.
Cunningham also spoke about funding and said the shelters need good case managers and better outreach and engagement program coordinators.
“We need to offer mental health programs and vocational programs,” she said. “This is about value and quality of lives.”
But given the current level of funding, Voigt said the shelters cannot be “clearinghouses” for those who have come out of mental health hospitals and prisons. The shelters, he said, do not have the resources to deal with people coming from these situations looking to rejoin society.
DeStefano, Voigt, and Healey all spoke about the need to provide fuller services to the homeless, not just beds.
“This is not a housing issue,” DeStefano said. “We must support the homeless not just with shelter, but support all the needs in their lives.”
Voigt questioned why the shelters only get publicity as places for homeless men to say. He wants more attention focused on women and especially on homeless children, whose parents may fail to provide them with adequate care and shelter.
“What happens to kids whose parents fail to take responsibility for them? They roam the streets,” Voigt said.
Healey briefly discussed members of Respect Line, one of Yale’s homeless advocacy groups, who have camped out on the Green and protested at City Hall against the current 90-day length-of-stay policy. He said it would be beneficial for Respect Line to petition the state government for more funding for the homelessness crisis instead of depicting the situation as “city versus the homeless.”