Ward 1 Republican challenger Ugonna Eze ’16 kicked off the general election season yesterday with his first event since Democrat Fish Stark ’17 fell to the incumbent, Sarah Eidelson ’12, in the Democratic primary.
Roughly 30 attendees played volleyball and snacked on Buffalo Wild Wings on Old Campus Monday as Eze began his discussion of homelessness policy in the city. In his speech, Eze advocated for policies that would alleviate the effects of homelessness. Over course of his campaign so far, Eze has held two policy events. In his first event two weeks ago, Eze addressed environmental sustainability.
“There’s a misconception of homelessness,” Eze said on Monday. “We think of the city’s homeless as an abstract statistic that we go into the city to save.”
Eze added that Yale students should view the city’s homeless population not as a problem to be solved, but as people in need of help. He also expressed support for the city’s efforts to combat homelessness in recent years, noting that the city is on track to eliminate chronic homelessness by the end of 2016.
Still, despite the city’s successes, Eze said that those policies need to go further. His proposals include expanding services for at-risk populations such as LGBTQ youth and military veterans. A survey conducted in 2013 by Connecticut Point-In-Time — a count of sheltered and unsheltered homeless in the United States — found that veterans comprise 7 percent of New Haven’s homeless population, while people who suffer from mental illness account for 36 percent.
“We need to have a stronger housing authority to make sure the city’s least advantaged aren’t being left on the side,” Eze said.
He added that the city should focus on placing the homeless in stable housing arrangements regardless of drug addiction and mental illness, noting that access to permanent housing is critical in solving these issues. While housing organizations like New Reach — a nonprofit organization that provides 100 units of permanent housing for New Haven and Hamden families — already exist, Eze said that the city should expand their efforts.
Eze added that in addition to housing the homeless, New Haven must also assist populations that have already been housed but are still at risk of falling back into homelessness. He proposed increasing investments in affordable housing as a means to provide stable living conditions for the Elm City’s homeless.
Eze pointed to the current evictions from the Church Street South complex — where the city will evict 289 families by the end of the year from their apartment units due to crumbling facilities and unsafe exposure to mold — as particularly problematic. The unsafe living conditions that led to the evictions are indicative of insufficient resources devoted to housing, he said.
Attendees’ reactions were largely positive. Students interviewed said homelessness is a visible phenomenon in New Haven that they encounter on a near-daily basis.
Some in attendance said the responsibility for alleviating homelessness lies partly with the University. Susan Aboeid ’19 said Yale should devote more of its resources toward efforts to relieve homelessness, adding that she was shocked at the number of homeless she sees on her walk from Old Campus to the dollar store on Chapel Street.
Andrew Bean ’17 echoed Aboeid’s sentiment, stating that he agrees with Eze’s policy proposal, which includes expanding volunteer opportunities for Yale students.
In his speech, Eze also mentioned also programs like Housing First, which advocates for ending homelessness as a means to solve other problems like mental illness and drug addiction. Bean said empirical evidence suggests that such programs would likely be more effective in combating homelessness than the city’s current policies.
During his speech and in conversations throughout the event, Eze emphasized the importance of involving Yale students in the city — something he said Eidelson has failed to do as alder. If elected, he would work with Yale student organizations, including the Yale Hunger and Homelessness Action Project, to mobilize student resources in the city, he said.
“I don’t just want your vote,” Eze said. “I want your vote and your commitment to get engaged in the city.”
A 2013 survey by Connecticut PIT found that the New Haven homeless population numbered 767.