In 2007, City Hall released the final version of its Ten Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness. Last Thursday, the city held a hearing to review the plan’s progress and address the problem of homelessness in New Haven.
The public hearing was hosted by the Board of Alders’ Human Services Committee. More than two dozen people — ranging from city officials and service providers to local residents — testified before the committee.
At the hearing, Martha Okafor, the city’s community services administrator, said New Haven’s homeless population is down 13 percent from last year and 29 percent from 2013, citing an annual count by the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness. The city has also seen a precipitous 56 percent drop in chronically homeless adults from three years ago, and for the first time eliminated chronic homelessness among veterans, Okafor said.
Yet it is clear that the city still faces many lingering challenges. Ward 27 Alder Richard Furlow, who chairs the Human Services Committee, began the hearing by acknowledging the limits of government efforts to counter homelessness.
“Homelessness is not something that will ever come to an end,” Furlow said. “But we do want to know how we are managing it in our city.”
Reverend Bonita Grubbs, executive director of Christian Community Action — a nonprofit housing and services provider agency — echoed this sentiment, saying that the city was bold in putting together the plan, but conditions have since changed. She cited the economic recession as the main reason and stressed that the city should consider “what do we do with the situation now.”
The ten-year plan, created under former Mayor John DeStefano, aimed to end chronic homelessness in the city in a ten-year period through supportive housing, employment opportunities, prevention efforts and public awareness campaigns.
The hearing focused primarily on the work of local officials and community provider organizations. Okafor summarized the achievement that the CSA, the city’s main official agency battling homelessness, has overseen. She said that through cooperation with the Housing Authority of New Haven, the CSA has created 392 units of supportive housing for the chronic homeless as set forth in the original plan while providing another 167 units for homelessness prevention. It also has two voucher programs together offering 370 housing opportunities.
But at the same time, the federal government is hardly funding new public-housing programs, she said. With a 97 percent occupancy rate in current public housing units, roughly 10,000 low-income families around New Haven are still on the waitlist, and will have to stay there for five years or more, Okafor said.
For their part, many community-provider organizations have also sought to facilitate employment opportunities and homelessness prevention efforts. Liberty Community Services, for example, has been working on a project to place homeless individuals into community beautification jobs and provide financial assistance to low-income, high-risk families, according to Jim Pettinelli, the organization’s executive director. He also pointed to two major challenges the city faces: the limited funding given by the federal and state governments for public housing, and resistant attitudes embodied by a small minority of the homeless population, many of whom face substance abuse or mental health problems.
Lieutenant Mark O’Neil of the New Haven Police Department recounted his first-hand law enforcement experience with the problem, including the damage homeless campers did to the New Haven Green. “We need more services,” O’Neill said.
The Board of Alders plans to host another workshop in November to discuss the needs of homeless people during the coming winter, Furlow said.
Malcolm Tang | firstname.lastname@example.org