Mayor Toni Harp has proposed creating a new administrative position to oversee the city’s homelessness prevention programs, a move that would streamline relations with local homeless service providers.
Harp proposed the idea to the Board of Alders during their Nov. 17 meeting. According to Laurence Grotheer, director of communications for the mayor, the new hire would supervise existing programs with private organizations that work to fight homelessness. If the Board of Alders approves the proposal, the new employee will work on the city’s Community Service Administration, which includes the Youth Services Department as well as the Health Department.
Although homeless service providers were not consulted about the potential change, they expressed approval of creating a new position focused on homelessness.
Noting that Martha Okafor, who currently runs the CSA, is overburdened with too many responsibilities, Executive Director of Columbus House Alison Cunningham said she considers the creation of a new position a positive development.
“This gives her more focused attention, and I think that’s great,” she said.
The new position would replace a vacant position that was created last year to work on development projects. That position was originally part of the Commission on Equal Opportunities, a city agency that makes sure that developers adhere to rules about hiring women and others in under-represented groups. Harp said at the BOA meeting that filling the vacant position with a new CSA employee would allow Okafor to better manage her responsibilities, the New Haven Independent reported.
New Haven faces disproportionately high rates of homelessness as compared to other Connecticut cities of comparable size. According to the 2013 Point in Time Count, New Haven’s homeless population is almost double that of Bridgeport’s and Stamford’s. The city combats homelessness primarily by working with non-profit service providers, including the Yale Hunger and Homeless Action Project as well as Columbus House, which funds an overflow shelter during winter months.
Shea Jennings ’15, the co-director of YHHAP, was pleased with the possibility of having a city employee working on homelessness.
“I think in general New Haven is a center for service providers, so it makes sense to me that the city would want to increase staff,” she said.
Both Jennings and Cunningham reported regularly working with the CSA and the BOA in order to make recommendations on homelessness policies and funding.
Jennings spoke of the city’s Homelessness Advisory Commission, started over a decade ago, which consists of city officials and members of non-profit service providers who provide educated guidance for the Board of Alders regarding issues of homelessness.
“They have been really good at listening to our voice,” she said.
In total, New Haven dedicates over $1 million annually to homelessness programs. Grotheer said that the new position could result in even more funding toward homelessness prevention.
According to Grotheer, information to apply to the new position will be posted for applicants who are interested. They will have to complete a civil service examination.
Roughly one in six homeless individuals in Connecticut are sheltered in New Haven.