In an email sent on March 19, President Salovey wrote that “[w]e have a moral obligation not only to protect ourselves from illness, but also to prevent the spread of the disease to others, especially to those who may be most vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19.” However, on March 27, New Haven’s Mayor Justin Elicker reported that Yale University would not assist New Haven in housing its COVID-19 first responders during the pandemic. Following widespread condemnation, Yale released a statement on March 28 announcing that it would make 300 beds (a fraction of its thousands of beds) available for New Haven police and firefighters. Yale has also committed to donating $1 million and matching donations up to $5 million to help the New Haven community during this pandemic.
On behalf of Yalies far and wide, we call on the University and its administrators to do more. With a nearly empty campus, Yale is in a unique position to help not only first responders, but also all New Haven residents affected by COVID-19 by opening its doors for those who need housing or to self-isolate. We ask the University to view our larger New Haven community as they would us, their students, and do their utmost to help them weather this crisis.
It is no secret that Yale and the City of New Haven have often found themselves at odds. However, throughout the school’s history, Yalies have stepped up to support the New Haven community. They rallied to support sanctuary churches, blanketed East Rock with runners for the annual Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services (IRIS) Run for Refugees and hosted free health clinics that help deliver primary and preventative care to under-resourced community members. While many of the students leading these efforts are now away from New Haven, they would happily offer their vacant dorms to the local effort to fight a common enemy. More than that, these Yalies understand that housing first responders is just a fraction of the aid Yale is capable of supplying.
We call on Yale to use its empty rooms for other groups vulnerable to COVID-19, including those without stable housing and those living in shelters that are not conducive to physical distancing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has acknowledged that people experiencing homelessness may be at risk for infection due to close quarters, lack of access to hygiene and sanitation facilities and other poor health outcomes related to a lack of permanent housing.
Annually, over 3,000 people in New Haven are homeless. Yet this number doesn’t include the scores of individuals who need but are unable to access safe and stable housing during the pandemic, including people recently released from jail or prison, those who were living in halfway houses and those who may be experiencing domestic violence. While the University may not be able to house everyone who needs it, any assistance would go miles towards mitigating community spread of COVID-19.
Yale should also assist local efforts to address the virus by providing free and reduced-cost meals for its community. During the academic year, the Yale Community Kitchen serves leftover food collected from Yale’s dining halls to those in need on Fridays and Saturdays. But with students sent home and buildings shuttered, this service has little to no path forward, leaving hundreds in the lurch.
Yale is uniquely equipped to solve this dilemma, fitted with kitchens that can make and supply thousands of meals per day, which due to physical distancing guidelines are currently being underutilized, especially as a meal pick-up service is already available to students who are unable to leave their on-campus housing.
A widely disseminated student and community-organized petition calls for Yale to repurpose University facilities to assist those who are in need of food, housing and quarantine spaces during the COVID-19 pandemic. It also calls on the University to cease Yale Police Department arrests and release those currently in custody, as well as to stop collecting rent on Yale-owned properties.
Considering that Yale receives more than $30 million in tax exemptions annually from the City of New Haven, opening its extensive facilities and resources to the entire New Haven community seems like the least it can do.
Without a doubt, members of the Yale community are committed to addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, and we thank all the doctors, nurses and researchers dedicated to tracking and stopping this virus. It is our hope that the University sees the hard work of its own members and continues to assist them on a community level.
Addressing the spread of the virus within the community is vital to keeping our most vulnerable members safe and allowing us as a society to recover. It should not take a global pandemic for us to join together and help our neighbors in need.
RACHEL BRASE is a Master of Public Health candidate at the Yale School of Public Health. DENNIS WANG is a medical student at Yale School of Medicine. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com. DEANNA GIRALDI, TYLER HARVEY, HIJAB KHAN and RYAN SUTHERLAND, all Master of Public Health candidates at Yale School of Public Health, contributed to the piece.