Yale students know the Flower Lady, Shakespeare Lady and the Poetry Lady. But these are not the only homeless people in the city. Though female homeless persons get a lot of attention, the homeless men of New Haven also have stories to tell.
Chad, a friendly man dressed in Yale attire that he said was mostly a gift, is quick to point out that homeless persons are responsible for their actions and often what happens as a result in their lives. Chad grew up in the middle- to upper-class Madison and Guilford areas of Connecticut. He admits that being homeless now is an embarrassment he is ashamed to admit to members of his community. Having been through a rehabilitation program for drugs and alcohol unrelated to his current homeless situation, Chad nonetheless does not believe in denying his culpability. He admits that after a relationship ended badly, his life spiraled downwards, ultimately leading to his being jobless and getting thrown out of his apartment.
“I am not a college student. I am a grown-up,” he said, emphasizing the importance of getting his life together.
He does, however, complain about the seeming lack of effort put in by New Haven and the State of Connecticut into helping homeless men and women. He advocates more state-run shelters and less delegation to the private sector, where he believes funds and help are often mismanaged.
When asked about Yale University and its role in helping the homeless community, Chad has a down-to-earth response.
“I mean, I don’t feel that the students should have to help people, but they do. And they do it for their own benefit, but they also benefit the community,” he said.
Eloquent and well-informed, Chad quotes statistics — which are congruent with a study done on the homeless in New Haven in 2003 — that approximately 4,000 homeless people are in New Haven at some point during the year. Chad explains how frustrated he is with the shelter system in the city and with the uneven distribution of care. On this last statement, he utters a hacking cough, a symptom of the walking pneumonia he said he got because of the cramped quarters of a shelter.
In the middle of this conversation, Chad spots a police car and mentions how he sees the police drive around constantly picking up homeless people. Sometimes these arrests are for the right reasons. Chad admits that there is significant use of alcohol and drugs. He also discloses that people resort to cruder tools, such as drinking Listerine, to get drunk. But Chad said he feels that being homeless is not a crime, and many arrests may be unwarranted.
“I feel that the city of New Haven could do more for people instead of putting them in shelters or in jail,” Chad said.
Phil Goldson feels a lot like Chad. He said he thinks that the New Haven shelter system is inadequate, as well as being dangerous, citing examples of drug use and sales in some shelters. A former homeless person himself, Phil started “Seventh Feather,” a tent camp for homeless persons during the cold months, complete with cooking, heating and bathroom facilities. Now in its second year, “Seventh Feather” has six permanent residents and one chosen based on need, or the “seventh feather” that the title implies. The location of the camp remains secret in order to protect it from law enforcement and to keep it from being overrun. Goldson keeps the camp drug- and alcohol-free in order to foster a better environment for those who want to get clean or those who simply want to stay clean. He advocates “Feather” as a place where people finally see the truth and want to make a change in their lives.
“You get down in the woods and you hit rock bottom. There is nowhere to go,” Goldson said.
Although currently working full-time, Goldson admits he has made several bad choices in his life, including selling drugs. There was even a period of four years, between 1997 and 2001, when he falsely believed he was infected with HIV, which he believes helped him deal with the negative externalities of being homeless.
“One thing about thugs is they live off fear,” Goldson said. “I have none. I lived with HIV for four years, I even tried to commit suicide, before I found out I was negative.”
Ironically, the way Goldson found out about his negative HIV status was by turning himself in on an outstanding warrant in order to make amends for the end of his life. In prison, before he could receive treatment, he was given an HIV test and tested negative.
What both Chad and Phil Goldson cannot stand is not being treated like people. As Goldson pointed out, most people are only one or a few paychecks away from being homeless.
“I don’t like rudeness. I don’t care if you’re a rude rich man or a rude pope — you’re just rude,” Goldson said.