One month’s rent. That’s all you need to keep yourself and your family in your apartment. You’ve been out of work. You found a new job. But that next paycheck isn’t going to come in time. You’re worried about eviction. What would you do?
In New Haven, someone in this situation could turn to Liberty Community Services, a nonprofit organization that can provide eviction prevention services. It’s one of three organizations in New Haven — along with Columbus House and New Haven Home Recovery — that runs a Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Rehousing Program, or HPRP. These programs can help with rent, security deposits, utility payments — relatively small amounts of money that mean a lot to people struggling to stay in their home or apartment.
The logic behind HPRP is simple: Giving people the assistance they need to fill in a financial “gap” allows them to stay in their housing. They won’t have to stay in a homeless shelter, double-up with family members, spend the night on the Green, crash on their friends’ couches or sleep in their cars. Their children will have a place to call home.
Once someone loses housing, the search for a new place to stay is difficult: Wait lists for subsidized housing are long, market-rate housing is expensive and New Haven has the lowest apartment vacancy rate in the nation. HPRP is good economic policy; it’s ultimately far less expensive for HPRP to fund a security deposit or a few months’ rent than for someone to enter the “revolving door” of the shelter system. And in the meantime, that person can keep supporting a family and community without the fear of losing a home — a kind of security most of us take for granted.
You’ve seen our fliers; you’ve gotten our emails. This week, YHHAP asks you to donate your Friday meal swipes. If you’re not on a meal plan, consider donating a few dollars — maybe $2.50, the price of a cup of coffee. The Fast proceeds will go directly to the three New Haven organizations that administer HPRP. Thanks to students’ generosity, we are able to donate thousands of dollars to New Haven HPRP each semester. Funding for HPRP is always limited, and your support helps these organizations help more men, women and children. Fundraising isn’t all we do — just ask the hundreds of students involved in our service projects — but it is a big part of our mission. HPRP works, and your donations help make it happen in New Haven.
Along with this year’s Fast, we’re hoping to start a conversation about homelessness in New Haven. We can begin with this question: Who are the homeless? You might know familiar faces around town — people who look like they’re down on their luck. But on any given night in New Haven, nearly 700 people experience homelessness. That’s about half the people in your class year. And the face of homelessness isn’t what you’d expect — because there is no single face of homelessness. Those 700 people might include a woman with children escaping domestic violence; a veteran whose PTSD makes it too difficult for him to hold down a job; a former prisoner whose arrest record keeps her unemployed; a patient released from a hospital who doesn’t have a place to call home; or a teenager who has aged out of the foster care system.
We asked our volunteers why they signed up for the Fast. Their answers speak for themselves: “The donations actually make a difference for those in need.” “HPRP is a relevant and practical way to prevent homelessness.” “No one ever thinks they might need this support some day.” “Not everyone has food they can count on for every meal.” Whatever your reason is, we hope you’ll join us in taking part in the YHHAP Fast this Friday.
One day’s swipes. That’s all it takes.
Julia Calagiovanni is a junior in Silliman College. Shea Jennings is a sophomore in Trumbull College. They are the co-coordinators of the Yale Hunger and
Homelessness Action Project.