Tuesday night’s discussion panel “True Life: The Reality of Homelessness” brought together Yale students and members of the community, homeless and otherwise, to discuss the present situation in New Haven and brainstorm progressive solutions to homelessness in the Elm City.
The panel, which was led by Yale Hunger and Homelessness Action Project coordinator Zachary Zwillinger ’07, directed questions at Michael, David, Kovacs and George, local homeless men with strong opinions on Yale’s involvement in the lives of New Haven’s homeless.
Michael, who used to work for Yale as well as for the Connecticut Department of Children and Families, is now homeless for the second time in his life. He said Yale students must learn to understand that the homeless are not second-class citizens.
“So many people look at the homeless like they’re not human anymore, but they’re very intelligent, have a lot of skills, and a lot of talents,” he said.
George, who said he was a Black Panther revolutionary, said he wants Yale students to be more devoted to and involved in issues surrounding homelessness. He said he is frustrated with the redundancy of attempts to alleviate stresses on the homeless population, and he said that Yale students have the skills to address this problem.
“When people are powerful, educated, focused and organized to confront the institutions of power with demands, [those institutions] have to pay attention,” he said. “Otherwise, you have people going in circles.”
George said that when he became homeless, he slept in front of the Yale president’s house and dared Yale police to evict him. After sleeping in Yale dorms, Dwight Hall and the Yale Law School, he said he finally garnered some respect from the students and faculty, but he said he alone cannot bring about change.
In response to George’s story, David, who is president of the support group for mental illness at Fellowship Place, said he places some responsibility on the homeless to stand up for their own cause.
“If there were 500 homeless people doing this, I think it really would have made a difference,” he said.
After Zwillinger asked how it is possible to motivate more homeless people to action, Michael said solidarity is difficult since there are many homeless people who are unwilling to help themselves. Some homeless, he said, ruin the reputation of others through vandalism, public consumption of drugs and alcohol, and rowdiness.
Michael said that although he considers himself a nonviolent person, he too has found himself involved in physical altercations.
“Unfortunately, in the streets, if you let someone hit you, they’re going to think they can do it again, so you have to fight back,” Michael said.
Kovacs said he was convinced that alcohol and drugs, or, as he said, “chemicals,” were to blame for such rowdiness.
YHHAP Awareness Week will culminate on Thursday with the YHHAP Fast, an event in which students can donate their dining hall swipes to charity.