Dylan Gunn, Contributing Photographer

Even in the winter, downtown New Haven is brightly colored by green, blue and yellow. These are the colors of the New Haven Ambassadors, who service the city’s Town Green District from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., every day of the year. The bright colors make the Ambassadors an unmissable part of the New Haven streetscape — and that’s intentional. 

The Ambassador program can trace its origins back to 1997, after downtown property owners voted to form the Town Green District, a special services district, and subsequently organized a cleaning team for it. Throughout the 2000s, the District also contracted out public safety officers and maintenance staff through a variety of private companies, until finally merging these roles in 2009 to create the Downtown Ambassadors. 

Currently, the Ambassador program is contracted through Streetplus, a Brooklyn-based downtown improvement company. Streeplus operates similar Ambassador programs throughout the country, from Los Angeles and Berkeley to Chicago and New York City. But Win Davis, Executive Director of the District, is especially proud of the work done in New Haven.

“The difference is very visible when you look at before and after pictures, but people tend to forget very quickly how dirty a place used to be,” Davis said. “When we first started, folks would challenge us and toss pieces of litter at our feet and over time, the public perception of our team has changed for the better.”

Nowadays, the ambassadors complete a wide range of outreach, cleaning, safety and beautification work. The program even maintains over 500 potted and hanging plants throughout the district all year round. These floral decorations can be easily identified by their bright blue and yellow colors — the same colors that the Ambassadors wear. 

As the title “ambassadors” suggests, however, none of this work is supposed to be behind the scenes.

“A lot of what we really expect from the ambassadors is the ambassador part, so it’s an expectation that they are making an effort just to say ‘hello,’” Ambassador Manager Terrence McIntosh told the News. “Along with things being clean and beautiful, you really get a sense of comfort and safety.” 

In addition, the ambassadors help to set up and run the many events that Town Green Administration hosts each year. These include weekly movie screenings at Pitkin Plaza during the summer, the recent Hobby Fair and the New Haven Night Market.

In addition to the work and success of the program, McIntosh also highlighted the people behind all of it: the ambassadors themselves. 

“That’s the other aspect of community,” McIntosh said. “Not only can they help improve their community, but they’re able to live and thrive in their community, because of this job.” 

McIntosh emphasized the importance of the Ambassador Program as an accessible form of employment. 

As an employer, the District places a higher emphasis on civic pride and adaptability than education and background — preferring a rigorous on-the-job training program. 

“It’s not just a situation where people come in, get a job and use this as a stepping stone,” said McIntosh. “They’ve really made it an opportunity for people to take care of their families themselves.”

Both Davis and McIntosh both told the News that the program is a second-chance employer, meaning that it is willing to consider and hire employees with a criminal record. 

Samuel Reyes, a safety ambassador for the Town Green District, is one such employee who is open and proud about overcoming a legally troubled past.

As a safety ambassador, Reyes patrols downtown and aims to help residents and business owners feel safe. He said that, in addition to the conflict-mediation training provided by the program, his personal history has equipped him to de-escalate potentially dangerous situations. 

“It’s all about how you address them, how you bring the message,” Reyes said. “I tell them, I’ve been there, I know how it is.”  

Reyes emphasized the importance of compassion in working with New Haven’s unhoused population. 

He said that opening a conversation with lines like “Are you hungry?” or “Would you like something to drink?” can help communicate good intentions and overcome skepticism toward a uniformed presence. 

“If I gotta go in my pocket and give them a dollar or buy them a coffee, just to get them to see that I’m not a bad person, I do it,” Reyes said. 

Sometimes the ambassadors have to deal with more dangerous situations. Reyes described one recent incident where a man threatened a group of girls with a knife. Reyes helped the girls get to their vehicle and spoke with the man while waiting for backup to arrive. 

Despite challenging situations like this, Reyes is undeterred. 

“I love what I’m doing,” he said.

The Town Green Special Services District’s offices are located at 900 Chapel St.