Despite opening its dorms to first responders and contributing millions to the city, Yale has faced continued criticism among New Haven residents who claim its response to the coronavirus pandemic is too little and has come too late. 

Since the pandemic’s start, the University has provided the Yale New Haven Health System with an overflow facility for COVID-19 patients and opened some of its dorms to first responders. But pressure is mounting for Yale to ramp up its contributions to New Haven as the city continues to suffer from the pandemic. New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker and residents have pushed the University to allow residents who face housing insecurity to stay in its dorms and increase its financial contribution to the city. At the city budget meeting on March 30, speakers said the pandemic has deepened the divide between the wealthy University and a region facing an economic emergency.

“Our communities have always been in crisis,” West Haven resident Briyana Mondesir said at the budget meeting. “Right now, we are just in a deeper and more widespread sense of emergency.”

In a March 27 press conference, Elicker criticized the University for initially declining his request to open dorms to first responders. Elicker said that University President Peter Salovey had reached out in mid-March and offered “any support Yale could give” to help New Haven weather the pandemic. But a week later, when Elicker asked the University to open Yale’s dorms for up to 150 public safety officers, Salovey declined the request.

The mayor then turned to the president of the University of New Haven, who readily agreed to provide beds for first responders who must self-isolate from their families.

University spokesperson Karen Peart said that Yale was contributing to the city in other respects. Since the pandemic’s start, the University has donated to local soup kitchens, suspended base rent payments for local businesses housed in University buildings and spearheaded a fund to aid New Haven — with promises to match further donations past the $1 million it contributed.

Peart explained that Yale could not accommodate the first responders because students’ rooms are filled with their belongings. Clearing the rooms would “take weeks,” Peart said.

But one day after Elicker’s criticism, Salovey announced Yale would make 300 beds available to first responders by the end of the week.

“We are eager to help New Haven with this need,” Salovey wrote in a statement. “We have been working to make this possible — and we agree that we should move as quickly as we can, in service of people doing extraordinary work on behalf of the New Haven community.”

The 300 beds are double the mayor’s original ask. Peart wrote in an email to the News that the University had begun readying rooms for first responders prior to Elicker’s criticism and made its announcement on the heels of the conference because “the mayor’s increased sense of urgency helped us conclude we needed to speed things up.” As of April 23, two firefighters and six funeral home workers were staying in Yale’s dorms.

The University has also offered aid to New Haven by transferring control over its overflow facility to YNHHS. The Lanman Center in Payne Whitney Gymnasium traditionally hosts basketball and volleyball games. But since late March, 50 patient beds have lined the hardwood court.

Yale Health initially set up the center as an overflow facility for Yale community members infected with COVID-19 but not sick enough to require hospitalization. The University never had to move a patient to the center, and does not have the license to treat patients outside of the Yale community.

Yale Health therefore transferred the site to YNHHS to increase the hospital system’s capacity. After assuming control of the site, YNHHS added about 50 more beds to it. Elicker praised Yale for providing the harder-hit YNHHS with space should the surge of COVID-19 patients overwhelm the hospital system’s capacity.

“It’s critical that we all share resources to allow us flexibility to best respond to the spread of the virus,” Elicker told the News. “That is why it’s so important for Yale to have opened up its facility to more than just Yale affiliates.”

But some New Haven residents are pushing for Yale to make more of its facilities available to the city. At the annual budget meeting, several speakers called on Yale to allow people facing housing insecurity to stay in its dorms, echoing an open letter to the University’s administration that several Yale students drafted. The letter, which has amassed over 1,200 signatures, tasked Yale with repurposing its empty facilities to serve anyone needing food or housing during the pandemic.

Residents have long called on Yale to increase its financial contributions to the city, and the demands have taken on an increased sense of urgency since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic’s effects have placed a financial burden on New Haven, and speakers at the budget meeting noted the divide between New Haven’s underfunded public schools — with large class sizes and too few resources — and the University’s roughly $30 billion endowment.

In an early March op-ed in the New Haven Register, Salovey said that Yale would increase its voluntary payments to the city, though at a more gradual rate than the one the mayor requested. Salovey also enumerated the University’s contributions to New Haven. Yale’s direct contributions to New Haven totaled more than $30 million last year, including a $12 million voluntary payment to its host city — the largest of any U.S. university, Salovey wrote.

“While I applaud [Elicker’s] desire to address the city’s budget deficit head-on, I do not believe that New Haven’s books should be balanced largely by Yale University writing dramatically bigger checks,” he wrote.

The city’s budget meeting took place over Zoom.

Rose Horowitch | rose.horowitch@yale.edu