Joshua Baehring

Tirzah Kemp will begin work as the director of New Haven’s Department of Community Resilience next month. 

Kemp, who currently works for Clifford Beers Community Care Center, a trauma-informed mental health care clinic, will replace the current director, Carlos Sosa-Lombardo, who in 2022 became the first person to hold the position. Kemp is currently Clifford Beers’ vice president of community support services and engagement, and has also worked as the clinic’s director of community and family engagement. In a statement, Kemp wrote that she is passionate about addressing the “social determinants” of health and offering healing and viable solutions to individuals who have endured traumatic experiences.

“I am deeply honored to assume the role of director of the Department of Community Resilience,” Kemp wrote. “This appointment holds personal significance for me, marking a culmination of my commitment to serving the residents of New Haven across various capacities throughout my career.”

The Department of Community Resilience oversees over 70 services and programs to address issues relating to homelessness, reentry after incarceration, drug use, gun violence and other crisis situations, according to Sosa-Lombardo. The department operates the Office of Housing and Homeless Services, the Office of Community Mental Health Initiatives and the Office of Violence Prevention and Special Projects and supports the Elm City COMPASS crisis response team and community advisory board. Sosa-Lombardo shared that the director’s primary role is to oversee all of these initiatives and operations.

Sosa-Lombardo identified the city’s lack of affordable and deeply affordable housing supply as the greatest challenge the department currently faces. He noted that in the past year, the department forged a partnership with the New Haven Economic Development Administration to strategically deploy resources to help increase the number of deeply affordable housing options in the city. However, he believes the challenge will persist due to the complexity of building affordable housing.

“The lack of affordable housing supply, more importantly, deeply affordable housing, makes it very difficult to address other barriers that people may face on top of being unhoused or unstably housed, such as mental illness, substance use, employment and primary care,” Sosa-Lombardo wrote.

As of August 2023, 52 percent of New Haven renters are cost-burdened, meaning they spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing, according to a study conducted by DataHaven.

Throughout Sosa-Lombardo’s tenure as director, the department spearheaded projects such as Elm City COMPASS, the purchase of the Days Inn Hotel and its conversion into a homeless shelter and the upcoming REST Center — Connecticut’s first 24-hour Crisis Stabilization Center, which is slated to open “between this spring and summer,” according to Sosa-Lombardo.

Sosa-Lombardo mentioned that he has previously engaged with Kemp through her work at Clifford Beers, and that he believes she brings the proper skills necessary to succeed in the role of director.

“I’m confident that the staff members leading the work in the frontlines and the new director will continue building upon the great work we have performed so far,” he wrote.

Sosa-Lombardo told the News that he is leaving the role to move to New York state to be closer to family. He is “looking forward” to staying in the public sector.

In her statement, Kemp stated her intent to focus on community-driven organizational development and grassroots community mobilization, and emphasized the importance of creating opportunities for “changemakers” to find and dismantle inequitable systems that affect the city’s residents.

“I am acutely aware of the myriad challenges our city faces, from the national housing crisis and food insecurity to community violence and economic instability, all of which contribute to poor health and education outcomes,” Kemp wrote. “Yet, I am emboldened by these challenges, seeing them as opportunities for collective action and collaboration.”

The city’s communications director Lenny Speiller told the News that Kemp will begin the role on March 11.

The Department of Community Resilience was founded in September 2021.

Ariela Lopez covers City Hall and City Politics. Originally from New York City, she is a first-year in Branford College.