Last fall, the city of New Haven implemented a 90-day length-of-stay policy for publicly-funded homless shelters, and the homeless advocacy group Respect Line lashed back with a rally and a letter to City Hall decrying the policy. The Finance Committee of the Board of Aldermen held a hearing in December about the policy, but opponents did not get the time they had hoped for to voice their dissent, and the issue remains to be resolved.
Alderman Ben Healey ’04 said the committee heard testimony from city officials about the policy, which limits the amount of time homeless adults can stay in city-funded shelters. But due to time constraints, critics did not get sufficient opportunity to speak up. He said his committee plans to hold a public hearing where everyone will be given a chance to be heard.
Healey, who submitted the original resolution to the Board of Aldermen to hold December’s hearing, said it is important to remember that the 90-day policy is already in effect. The hearing was meant to better his committee’s understanding of the issue, he said.
Once the Finance Committee holds a public hearing on the 90-day policy, its members will vote whether or not they are in favor of it. Then the entire Board of Aldermen will vote on the policy. Healey said while the outcome of these votes will not have bearing on the policy itself, it might have political force.
“If the board has suggestions as to how to modify the policy, I think the administration would probably be responsive to the concerns of the board,” Healey said. He said it is premature to declare the board’s support for the 90-day policy, but he assumes they will be in favor of it.
Respect Line, which consists of homeless people, students, and other community members, is strongly opposed to the 90-day policy. Respect Line attracted attention last fall when it organized the Tent City on the New Haven Green in response to the closing of the Overflow Emergency Shelter.
Respect Line representatives attended December’s hearing. Among them was Cathy de la Aguilera ’04, who said in an e-mail that Respect Line members silently held signs in the back of the room. She said she was only able to speak for a minute.
“When I spoke, I pleaded for the committee to allow for a public hearing to take place, and supposedly one will happen,” de la Aguilera said.
Student member Magni Hamso ’05 said in an e-mail, “There are both philosophical and logistical disagreements [with the 90-day policy].”
Both the city administration and Respect Line said they aim to achieve the same goal: moving homeless people from shelters to independent living.
According to a press release, Respect Line has thrown its support toward an alternative to the city’s 90-day policy, called the “Community Levels” approach. The first level would consist of an “intake shelter” — open to all — and after a series of increasingly progressive levels of shelters, the final step would be permanent housing solutions for each individual.
Respect Line’s opposition is grounded in the principle that all people have a basic human right to shelter, the press release said. Among Respect Line’s specific complaints are that the policy neglects vulnerable groups of people, such as the mentally ill; rehabilitation programs have thus far been shorthanded; and term-limiting policies ultimately increase the length of time people stay homeless.
According to the City of New Haven Homeless Advisory Commission’s “Shelter Length of Stay Document,” which the commission approved last summer, homeless people with “treatable problems” can be effectively transitioned from emergency shelters to independence. Treatable problems, as defined by the commission, include substance abuse and mental illness. The 90-day policy encourages these individuals to work with the available case management staff on plans for their independence.
“It is the desire of the Homeless Advisory Commission to see that all of those men and women with problems needing treatment engage with the treatment community in order to develop plans for independent living, or will be required to leave the shelter,” the document said.
An officer of the United Way of Greater New Haven, an active player in the city’s social services community, said the organization remains neutral toward the city’s 90-day policy. Lesley MacDonald, the group’s vice president of community impact, said her organization invests in shelter beds just as the city does.
“In many cases, our funds are side-by-side,” she said. “What’s different about the United Way is that we don’t set — policies. We leave it to the agency.”
MacDonald also said New Haven has a far greater investment in the homeless situation than many other cities.
As for the impact of the 90-day policy on New Haven’s homeless situation, she said “I think it’s probably still too soon to tell.”