Police made three arrests as the city dismantled a short-lived camp for homeless people, just after the mayor announced progress in a new longer-term community effort to make sure all New Haveners are housed.
The arrests happened Friday afternoon at 634 Howard Ave., where activists and homeless people had set up a protest encampment calling on the city to implement policies to help people without housing. (Click the video to see the arrests.)
Mayor Toni Harp said the city had received a number of complaints about the camp, which she called unsanitary and unsafe.
Harp made those remarks at a Friday afternoon press conference in City Hall. The mayor joined officials from city and social services agencies to announce that a 100-day campaign to house the most vulnerable of the city’s homeless has matched 86 people to housing.
Friday’s police action was the second time the city has removed such a camp this year. The city made two arrests when it took down an occupation by the same activists in May, in a vacant lot on Rosette Street. Two of the three people arrested Friday had been arrested in May.
Mayor Harp also announced that she has signed on to the Mayors Challenge To End Veteran Homelessness, a federal effort to end homelessness among veterans by 2015.
The police showed up at 634 Howard Ave. at just before 4 p.m. Three staffers from Columbus House were on the scene as well.
Letticia Brown-Gambino, who works at Columbus House, said it was the third time they’d visited the camp in 24 hours to offer shelter to people. “No real takers,” she said. “It’s their choice. Shelter beds are available.”
With eviction imminent, campers began dismantling tents and moving everything out onto the sidewalk.
“It’s really a shame,” said Anna Rose Gable, one of the organizers. She said 10 homeless people spent the night at the camp Thursday.
“It’s terrible,” said a homeless man who was packing up. He declined to give his name. The camp was not causing any problems, he said. “Everything is nice and clean.”
“I’m going to sleep on the street,” he said. He said he wouldn’t go to a shelter, to be with “thieves and crackheads.” He said he’d had a wallet and a watch stolen at the Grand Avenue shelter.
“I liked it,” neighbor Shacara Mcinnis said of the camp. “It didn’t bother me. All the people were friendly.”
Linda Jordan, another neighbor, said she had offered to make food for the camp that evening. “They didn’t bother me. They were fine.”
But neighbor Abdullah Shahedah, who had called the cops on Thursday when the campers first showed up, said he was glad to see the camp go. “They didn’t have any facilities,” he said. “They were shitting in buckets.”
That happened only one time, in the night, said Gable. She said she cleaned the bucket out first-thing Friday morning.
The campers left one tent standing. Hold-outs Gregory Williams and Flor Jones sat outside it; Mark Colville lay down inside.
Williams said they had three demands of the city: Stop arresting or harassing people for sleeping in public places; restore all shelter beds that were eliminated this year; and change zoning codes to create more low-income housing in the city.
Cops moved in and arrested the three men. Jones went silently, walked out by two cops. Williams (pictured) went out chanting, carried by four cops. Colville walked out chanting as well.
The city’s Livable City Initiative planned to remove the remaining tent, repair a gate to the property, and lock the site.
A couple of hours before the arrests, the activists showed up to hold signs of protest at a City Hall press conference on homelessness, where officials announced their progress on a 100-day challenge to house people.
The 100-day challenge kicked off on June 1 with a goal of housing 107 of the city’s chronically homeless, the people who have been without housing for the longest and need the most support.
Since that time, a consortium of federal, state and local organizations and agencies has created new systems for working together and sharing resources. As a result, providers have been able to remove bureaucratic and logistical hurdles and house homeless people in record times.
“We are making progress,” Harp (pictured) said Friday afternoon in the atrium of City Hall.
“We are seeing a new way of doing business,” said Alison Cunningham, head of the Columbus House. “We’re no longer working in silos.” The goal, she said, is not simply to offer shelter, but to offer housing.
“Today I signed a lease to my apartment,” said Gary Clempson, who said he was homeless for four years, sleeping on friends’ couches and inside. He found help at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Joseph Jackson (pictured) said he also found a place to live, after an extended time of homelessness. “To this day, I can’t really tell you how much it means to have a permanent place to live.”
Leigh Shields-Church, team leader for the 100-day campaign, said 39 people have been housed since June 1, and 47 more have been matched to housing.
It’s the beginning of an entirely new way of dealing with homelessness in New Haven, Sheilds-Church said after the press conference. People can now be matched to housing in as fast as two weeks, she said.
Organizations are now talking to each other and working together, said Lisa Tepper-Bates (pictured), head of the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness. That may not seem like a big deal, but it is, she said. “That’s a revolution.”
It’s been “a quantum leap forward,” toward the national goal of having no one be homeless for more than 30 days, she said.
Matching a total of 86 people to housing is short of the 107-person goal set at the beginning of the 100-day challenge. Shields-Church said the city will reach that number soon—and then set a new goal, to keep pushing the process forward.