Short on cash, homeless advocates in New Haven are racing to get the dispossessed out of vv the cold.
Columbus House shelter Executive Director Allison Cunningham has $160,000 in hand for her agency’s Cedar Street winter overflow shelter — the only shelter of its kind in the city — and plans to open the shelter in mid-November. But Cunningham needs $100,000 more to remain open for the duration of the winter, according to two individuals who attended a Friday afternoon closed meeting between Cunningham and the mayor.
At the meeting, “the mayor made pretty clear that the city had no more money to give,” said Community Services Administrator Kica Matos, who attended the meeting. She added that the CSA is planning two fundraisers for the overflow shelter, though details have not been finalized.
Edward Mattison, an attendee of Friday’s meeting, said he and Cunningham, who did not return a request for comment yesterday, are working with Yale-New Haven Hospital and various community groups to get the extra funds for New Haven — the largest provider of homeless services in Connecticut. But at least for now, the deficit means that in the later winter months, 75 men on any night could be stranded on the street.
A CITY DEADLINE
During the winter, overflow shelters take in homeless who are vulnerable to poor or hazardous weather conditions because the standard operating homeless shelters are generally at full capacity.
Mattison, who is also head of the homeless support advocacy committee Inside at Night, said the $160,000 can help the overflow shelter run until February. The other $100,000, he added, is necessary to keep the shelter running past then, until May.
Lately, city officials have been raising awareness that New Haven needs more homeless beds for the winter.
Last year, there were two overflow shelters — one more than usual winter procedure — due to the large population of homeless who needed help during the cold months.
But due to a $340,000 city budget cut, which dissolved most of the city funding for overflow shelters, the New Haven overflow shelter system was reduced from two to one, and the sole Columbus House shelter could not open on Oct. 1, as it had last year.
City Hall set aside $66,000 this year for the Cedar Street shelter, Matos said, but the funds can only keep the overflow shelter open for about two months.
Even now, shelters are starting to shut out homeless because there are not enough beds.
A COMMUNITY DRAMA
Mayorga also said Cunningham, DeStefano and Mattison discussed how both state and local officials should be involved in the homeless problem.
“[They] need … to communicate with contiguous towns and the state so that New Haven tax payers aren’t the primary source of funding for services to the homeless,” she wrote in the e-mail, “especially when not all homeless are actually from New Haven.”
Last winter, DeStefano blamed the burgeoning homeless crisis in the city — and the need for a second overflow shelter — on the state and its inadequate prison reentry programs.
In New Haven, Cunningham and Mattison are working with the community issues advocate United Way of Greater New Haven to get the remaining funds.
GNH United Way Chief Operating Officer Heather Calabrese said United Way has been “inspired” to manage the fund Shelter Now after Yale-New Haven Hospital pledged to give Columbus House $20,000, which would reduce the requisite amount to $80,000.
And Yale-New Haven officials will work with United Way to encourage “individuals, foundation, companies” and other community groups to contribute to this “significant, unmet need” via a $80,000 challenge grant, Senior Vice President of Public Affairs Vin Petrini added.
“It’s not just making sure people are safe overnight in bad weather, but also making sure the social infrastructure doesn’t deteriorate or unravel any further,” Calabrese said. “When we help people who are homeless, it improves the quality of life [for] all of us.”
Officials of Columbus House, a nonprofit homeless support organization, opened the agency’s overflow shelter in the 1990s.