(Updated) In the face of neighborhood outcry, homelessness activists decided to keep up—for now at least 24 hours—an encampment they staked out Thursday morning in a vacant city lot in the Hill.
The encampment went up Thursday in an empty city lot at 634 Howard Ave.
Thirty activists marched there at 9:30 a.m., starting from the Amistad Catholic Worker House at 211 Rosette St., which has served as the hub for activists pressuring the city for more housing for the homeless.
The city dismantled a previous homeless encampment that activists erected in May next to the Catholic Worker house.
Activists rallied outside the house Thursday morning. In a series of speeches kicked off by a prayer by Rev. Richard Meadows, activists argued that housing is a human right and that people should never have to sleep under bridges.
At 9:35 a.m. the group set off down Rosette Street carrying signs and banners.
“Where, then, shall we go?” activists chanted as they marched. Dwight Alder Frank Douglass (at left in photo) helped carry a banner. He said the group is right to occupy a vacant lot. “I won’t support them getting kicked out.”
The group arrived at 634 Howard Ave. It fanned out and cleared the lot of garbage, carrying a broken down couch out to the curb.
Then they got out a lawn mower and weed whacker and trimmed back overgrown bushes.
They set up a grill, plastic chairs, and a half-dozen tents.
Almost immediately, neighbors got upset.
Abdullah Shehadeh (at left in photo), who lives nearby, called the police right away at 10 a.m.
“I don’t like this bullshit,” he said.
Shehadeh said he has suffered enough from a homeless shelter that used to be across the street. Already, he said, down-and-out people pee in the street and use drugs near his house. Sometimes he finds them sleeping in the doghouse in his backyard.
“I’m not against helping the homeless people,” he said. “They need to find a good safe place away from residents.”
Mark Colville (at right in photo), who lives at the Catholic Worker house on Rosette, approached him to talk. Colville said the city doesn’t have a place for homeless people to be.
“That’s not my problem,” Shehadeh replied. He said organizers should have asked for city permission before setting up camp. He said he’s concerned the encampment will cause problems for neighbors.
“I’m talking about pissing and pooping,” Shehadeh said. “Where are they going to poop?”
Activist Gregory Williams said that campers can just walk to the Catholic Worker house on Rosette Street—about 10 minutes away on foot—to use the bathroom there.
Upon hearing neighbors’ concerns, Barbara Fair, a criminal justice activist who had joined the march, began to have her doubts. She said she was surprised to that organizers hadn’t checked with neighbors before setting up camp. She started suggesting to other activists that setting up an encampment with no notice is disrespectful to neighbors.
She crossed the street to talk to a woman who identified herself only as Miss Parker. The woman, sitting on her front stoop and eying the encampment warily, said it would just bring “a whole bunch of riffraff” into the neighborhood.
The block has enough problems as it is with homeless people, many of whom are pedophiles and sex offenders, she said.
Another neighbor, Diane Wiggins, said she’s tired of homeless people asking her for money. “We’re all struggling as it is.”
“A lot of people choose to live like that,” Parker said of the homeless people.
Back on the sidewalk in front of the new camp, Joseph Jordan, a self-professed anarchist who had marched with the group, was beginning to criticize the camp. The camp should go in “a rich white neighborhood,” he said. Putting it in a low-income “black and brown neighborhood” without asking is “offensive to neighbors,” he said. “It’s disrespectful.”
“Don’t pimp black and brown poverty to make yourselves feel better,” he said.
Mary Barber, who also helped set up the camp, said she was also beginning question the project. “They didn’t tell us all the details.” If the camp can’t find neighborhood support, it should be taken down, she said.
Shehadeh offered a lesson in civil disobedience. “If you want attention, go to the Green,” he said to Williams (at left in photo). Shehadeh promised to pitch a tent on the New Haven Green himself if the protestors moved the camp there.
“You need to go to a public place,” he said. “Come to a neighborhood and they’re going to be against you.”
As Colville served up freshly grilled hot dogs, Williams called for a lunch meeting to decide whether the occupation should go on, given neighborhood resistance.
“I understand their concerns, but still, I have nowhere to go,” said Flor Jones (pictured), who is homeless. He said the camp will be clean and governed by rules prohibiting drugs and alcohol.
The city will shut the camp down soon, anyway, he said. “The city will come in and sweep us out like flies. We still have to try.”
“It’s not about giving up, it’s about respecting the community,” said Fair (pictured).
“I’ve been here 30 years,” said Jones.
“I’ve been here 60,” countered Fair. She said the camp should be moved to Yale-owned property.
“Everybody says they support it, but not here,” said a man named Roosevelt Watkins. “Where, then, shall we go?”
“Yale,” said Fair. “That’s where thou shall go.”
Eventually, the group decided on a course of action: Give it 24 hours. In the meantime, two designated “ambassadors” will talk to neighbors and try to win their support. If neighbors are still dead-set against the camp by noon on Friday, the group will consider leaving.
City spokesman Laurence Grotheer said that the Howard Avenue camp will likely meet the same fate as the previous one on Rosette Street: removal by the city.
“It’s a nonconforming use of the property,” he said. “Appropriate city departments will respnd with code enforcement. There’s a liability issue, and there are public health issues to be considered.”
Grotheer said he’s not sure when the city will move to dismantle the camp. Mayor Toni Harp will be making a couple of announcements about the city’s homelessness policies on Friday at 2:30 p.m., he said.