Connecticut is second only to New York for the state with the worst income inequality in the country. Yet every day, students benefit from Yale’s abundant resources while some members of our greater New Haven community struggle with poverty and homelessness on the streets outside the college gates.
The city of New Haven is especially indicative of that disparity. New Haven makes up about 4 percent of Connecticut’s total population, but has 16 percent of Connecticut’s homeless people. And the disproportionate number of homeless people in New Haven is not improving; between 2015 and 2016, the homeless population in our city increased by 10 percent. Many of us come to Yale to make a positive, lasting difference in the world. The number of things that are wrong out there — and even in our own city — can be overwhelming, as can the years of education between us and the change-making positions we hope to hold. But we can, in countless small ways, make a difference today.
Last semester, the Yale Hunger and Homelessness Action Project raised over $10,000 for homelessness relief in New Haven during the YHHAP Fast. I’m writing to encourage you to join your fellow Yalies and the generous Yale Dining administration to make the Fast a success. On Friday, April 14, donate your breakfast, lunch and dinner meal swipes. Take a break from your routine to dine out or use your guest swipes to eat in the dining hall. Yale Dining gives the cost of the meal swipes to YHHAP, and we donate the proceeds directly to New Haven projects to alleviate hunger and homelessness.
YHHAP has supported a number of projects in the past, but we have consistently given to the Rapid Re-Housing Program of the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness. It is nearly impossible to search for work and take care of oneself without shelter. Based on the idea of “Housing First,” the program provides short-term shelter and services to return people who have recently become homeless to stable living conditions in their own homes. The program frees up shelter beds and reduces strain on limited resources by giving people the support to return to self-sufficiency. Rapid re-housing works. According to data gathered by CCEH, “At the two-year post-exit mark, almost 90 percent of singles and 94 percent of families had not returned to shelter.”
We often support three emergency shelters, Columbus House, New Reach and Liberty Community Services, that employ the rapid re-housing support programs developed by CCEH. These shelters are independence-focused. They pair emergency shelter with employment and housing search assistance to help families and individuals reestablish their independence. They also run supportive housing programs to help recently resettled people remain in their homes, continue to lead healthy lives and maintain their independence. Liberty Community Services additionally includes meal, health and employment programs. Liberty runs Sunrise Café, a free breakfast soup kitchen every weekday morning and Sunday Brunch, which provides a free meal on Sundays when government assistance programs are closed. RESPECT, also run by Liberty, offers temporary employment to people who are homeless with the goal of setting them up with long-term employment by the end of the program. Finally, Liberty provides HIV testing and prevention services along with health education for at-risk populations. YHHAP supports programs that are not only palliative but focused on self-sufficiency and reducing the number of people who are homeless and hungry in our community.
It’s easy to get lost in the stress and excitement of Yale and lose sight of our larger New Haven community. The Fast is one of many simple YHHAP projects that turn wasted and excess Yale resources into valuable contributions to the New Haven community. The Fast is a gentle, semi-annual reminder to the student body that New Haven is out there and that a little help can go a long way. Do your part to benefit the New Haven community by donating your meal swipes this Friday, April 14 to the YHHAP Fast by going to the “dining” tab in Yale SIS. On Friday, consider eating at one of our sponsors, Wall Street Pizza, Yorkside or Claire’s. Have dessert at Insomnia and use the change of space to think about the New Haven community. We appreciate your support!
Aidan Pillard is a freshman in Jonathan Edwards College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .