As nightly temperatures flirt with the freezing point, student activists for the New Haven’s homeless population have taken up the charge to keep the city’s overflow shelter open for the duration of the winter.
The Yale Hunger and Homelessness Action Project alone has pledged to raise $20,000 through on-campus initiatives, a significant increase from previous annual collections. Although the city decided last week to reopen the Cedar Street overflow shelter in mid-November, the emergency haven will not stay open past February unless local nonprofits and YHHAP find $100,000 to compensate for city budget cutbacks.
“In the beginning, our main tactics for dealing with this issue was petitioning the city government for more funding,” YHHAP co-coordinator Beth Reisfeld ’09 said. “But then folks started realizing that if something was going to happen, they’d have to make it happen themselves.”
City officials originally planned to keep the overflow shelter closed all winter in an effort to conserve $258,865 in government funding, but shelter operators managed to coordinate the reopening of the overflow station with the help of $159,000 in private monetary contributions.
Now, it has fallen onto the shoulders of local organizations such as United Way and YHHAP to come up with the remaining $100,000 of funds necessary to keep the overflow shelter open until the end of April. The shelter, which has the capacity to house 75 men each night, is often a last resort for males who cannot find space at one of the city’s two permanent homeless shelters, which give priority to women and children.
While City Hall spokeswoman Jessica Mayorga said the city is currently looking to engage in “creative fundraising” with the local chapter of United Way to find the money to keep the overflow shelter open through the course of the cold season, YHHAP coordinators have already made plans to fundraise.
Reisfeld said YHHAP is currently organizing a “Shelter Week” to take place during the third week of November to raise $20,000 for the overflow shelter. The campaign will include panel discussions, film screenings, a benefit concert and a “sleep-out” event on Old Campus, where students will pledge money to sleep in a tent on Old Campus for a night.
Additionally, YHHAP will once again host its biannual fast, asking students to give up their dining hall swipes for one day in order to donate the equivalent money to the campaign for the overflow shelter.
“In the past, the fast has always been very successful and we usually raise around $8,000,” Reisfeld said. “But this year, we’re counting on a critical mass of students participating to tip the money we raise over the edge.”
Eliza Schafler ’09, co-coordinator of YHHAP, said the organization is also teaming up with homelessness activist groups at Quinnipiac University and Southern Connecticut State University in an attempt to bring the issue of under-funding for the homeless community to a statewide level.
Reisfeld said there is no debate among city leaders about whether the overflow shelter is necessary — no one wanted to keep the shelter’s doors shut — but the “city is broke” and there are not enough funds to maintain a third shelter, she said.
“This cutback sounds intentional, but it wasn’t,” Reisfeld said. “The city had to take a scalpel to really necessary social services.”
Currently, the Columbus House on Ella T. Grasso Boulevard and the Immanuel Baptist Shelter on Grand Avenue are the only two shelters open to the city’s homeless population. Last year, the Cedar Street overflow shelter helped relieve overcrowding in these two shelters, and a provisional fourth shelter was also opened last February to temporarily provide spaces more increased numbers of homeless individuals looking for a shelter spot.