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Homeless Advocates Storm City Hall

by Melissa Bailey | May 1, 2014 12:36 pm

(17) Comments | Commenting has been closed | E-mail the Author

Posted to: Housing, Social Services

Melissa Bailey Photos Under pressure from activists, Mayor Toni Harp negotiated to keep the city’s overflow shelter open for one more week—and cautioned that the Cedar Street facility’s long-term fate remains up in the air.

Harp made those remarks Thursday morning, in response to a crowd of two-dozen activists who stormed her office in search of more support for the homeless.

The 88-bed men’s shelter at 232 Cedar St., which is open six months of the year, was initially set to close Thursday for the end of the season. A group of activists, led by Yale Divinity School student Gregory Williams and Mark Colville of the Amistad Catholic Worker House, made plans to show up at Harp’s doorstep Thursday to protest its seasonal closure, especially given the raw, rainy weather this week.

Harp got wind of the protest Wednesday and started making calls.

She knows the landlord well: the Cornell Scott Hill Health Center, which owns the building and lets the shelter use the basement rent-free, used to be her employer. Harp worked there as a homeless health coordinator before becoming mayor in January. Harp called up Hill Health as well as Columbus House, which staffs the shelter.

She said the city, which funds the shelter, will pay an extra $10,000 to keep it open another week, until next Wednesday, if the two agencies agreed. Columbus House and Hill Health got on board.

Upon finding out that news, Williams and Colville then changed the theme of Thursday’s day of action to a “victory” celebration. They praised Harp—and pushed for a long-term solution to homelessness.

“One more week is not enough!” chanted the group.

The crowd featured one person who’s currently at the overflow shelter, Kirk McKenzie. McKenzie, a former security guard, forklift driver and supermarket employee, said he’s currently looking for work. He said without a shelter to go to, he’ll have to carry his stuff around with him all day—which hurts his chances of finding work again.

“Walking around with stuff, you’re not going to get nothing,” he said. (He declined to be photographed.)

Other people, both currently and formerly homeless, showed up in support.

In remarks at the Sengbe Pieh statue outside City Hall, Chrissy Smith (pictured at the top of this story), who has been homeless for seven months, said she spent Wednesday night in a tent and got drenched with rain. She said she showed up at City Hall to make sure men who are still living at the overflow shelter don’t face that situation.

“I know what it’s like to wake up tomorrow morning and know that you don’t have a place to sleep tomorrow night,” said Mike Stebbins, who spent 10 years without a home.

“If you have a place to stay, you can start to reform your life again,” Stebbins said. “A place to live, to me, is a kingdom of gold.” 

Colville announced the group would head up to Harp’s office with one question: “Where, then, shall we go?”

Upstairs, the group met Harp’s spokesman, Laurence Grotheer (pictured). Grotheer announced that Harp was in a meeting. The group did not have an appointment.

“The mayor keeps a schedule,” Grotheer said. “You’re sort of running counter to protocol, which is to call ahead.”

“We have people who are being evicted,” countered Williams (at center in photo). “We need her help.” He couched the situation as an “emergency.”

“The mayor worked into the evening [Wednesday] to arrange with Columbus House” to extend the shelter’s season for another week, Grotheer noted.

“We see her as an ally,” Williams replied. But “a one-week eviction is still an emergency.”

“This is a seasonal and annual closure,” Grotheer replied. He said it was unfair to call it an “eviction.” The city spends $1.1 million in its general fund, plus hundreds of thousands of dollars in state and federal grants, on homeless services, he said. “I don’t think New Haven is irresponsible” in its homeless services.

Harp emerged after a short wait and accepted her visitors before rolling TV cameras.

“I’m sorry you had to wait,” she said calmly.

She announced that Hill Health had “agreed to another week,” but “there is some concern about continuing with” the overflow shelter at Cedar Street. “They feel like it’s not an appropriate use of the space.”

The shelter has occupied the basement of 232 Cedar for ten winters.

Hill Health spokesman Rob Rioux later confirmed that statement. The front of 232 Cedar St. contains the South Central Rehab Center, which houses a methadone clinic and a 29-bed detox facility for people recovering from drug addiction. The homeless shelter occupies the basement.

“It just doesn’t make sense to have a wet shelter in an environment where people are trying to recover from substance abuse,” Rioux said. People in recovery there look out the window and see people drug dealing or drinking in the parking lot, he said.

Rioux said Hill Health wants to “start having a conversation” about moving the shelter elsewhere. “If we have to [keep the shelter there] next year, fine. But long-term, it puts too much pressure on the folks who are trying to get well.”

Harp said she’d be participating in the talks about where to move the shelter. In the meantime, she noted the city is amid a 100-day quest to end chronic homelessness. During this 100-day period, she enlisted the help of churches to house the homeless, as they have done in the past through an effort called Abraham’s Tent.

“We’re asking our religious community to help us out,” Harp said. She said the city would also check other shelters for available beds for men at the overflow shelter. “We’re going to support them in any way that we can.”

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posted by: Nathan on May 1, 2014  1:49pm

“She said the city, which funds the shelter, will pay an extra $10,000 to keep it open another week, until next Wednesday, if the two agencies agreed.”

What goes into that figure of $10,000 per week?

posted by: K Harrison on May 1, 2014  1:57pm

Just on the surface, gotta say I’m impressed with both sides of this interaction. Activists stayed high-road (which makes sense if they are in it for the long haul on the issue), which I believe they are. Mayor & staff came out to talk to them, even though they hadn’t scheduled a meeting, and put together a one-week extension.

Politics? Sure, but better done than business as usual. Or maybe that’s just the coverage.

I would be interested in seeing more coverage of the policy side of this issue—I don’t actually know how the ask (extending the emergency shelter year-round) fits into policy debates. I don’t know very much about housing policy but clearly this is an important and recurring issue. Based on the split-three-ways TrueVote it sounds like other readers might agree.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on May 1, 2014  2:09pm

New Haven contains 25% of the region’s population. How much of the region’s homeless population should the City provide for?

posted by: Threefifths on May 1, 2014  2:48pm

If you want to help the homeless.You must do what Robert Hayes did.He filed a lawsuit on behalf of a man experiencing homelessness in New York City. The lawsuit was settled out of court, and people experiencing homelessness won the right to shelter in New York City.

The Callahan Legacy:  Callahan v. Carey and the Legal Right to Shelter.

http://www.coalitionforthehomeless.org/pages/the-callahan-legacy-callahan-v.-carey-and-the-legal-right-to-shelter


Robert Hayes: Anatomy of a Crusader
By SUZANNE DALEY

http://www.nytimes.com/1987/10/02/nyregion/robert-hayes-anatomy-of-a-crusader.html


Robert Hayes also form The National Coalition for the Homeless.


http://nationalhomeless.org/about-us/who-we-are/

posted by: Amy@UnitedWay on May 1, 2014  4:36pm

K Harris, Thanks for raising the policy aspect.  The policy around homelessness has shifted dramatically in the last few years, and New Haven is in the process of implementing a new vision of homeless services in concert with the federal HEARTH Act (Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing Act of 2009).  To bottom-line it, HUD is using its funding to shift the dynamics from managing homelessness to ending homelessness.  The idea is to move from a program-centric to a system-centric and client-centric approach that matches people who are experiencing homelessness with the most effective (in terms of cost and outcomes) services to get some quickly housed.  This has been coupled with aggressive targets to end individual and veteran homelessness in the near future and family homelessness a few years out.

Homeless service providers have been organizing for several years to embody this new approach, and the current 100-Day Challenge to End Chronic Homelessness (https://www.facebook.com/EndHomelessnessNewHaven) is a remarkable step forward in transforming how we think and act on this issue.  This involves providers, the city, Y-NHH, Veterans Administration, advocates and funders (like United Way of Greater New Haven).  And we need people now to volunteer, as we fan out across the community doing a walking survey to assess the vulnerability and needs of homeless people in shelters and on the streets in New Haven.  More information is available at http://bit.ly/VolunteersOpenDoors.

That said, in the interim we have people on the streets who are vulnerable.  If we do this now and we do it right, we won’t be facing this situation next year.

posted by: Dwightstreeter on May 1, 2014  4:59pm

For an excellent article on this topic, here is the link to the Yale Daily News.

http://yaledailynews.com/blog/2014/04/25/up-close-a-haven-for-the-homeless/

posted by: Dwightstreeter on May 1, 2014  5:14pm

Three Fifths: The CT Constitution lacks the provision of the NYS Constitution that made the suit successful.

Any other thought on a law suit?

posted by: Kris on May 1, 2014  9:21pm

Wait…..can someone tell me who they are referring to when they say it’s not fair to those in rehab trying to better themselves to look out the window and see people drinking and buying selling drugs. Who is out there drinking and buying drugs? Please tell me they aren’t referring to the homeless. If in fact they are then I want to say to the man with the sign that says housing is a human right…...working putting a roof over ones head is also a human right as is drinking and drugging yourself into homelessness. Let’s spend 10,000 to house them so they can spend their money on booze. Makes sense to me. Can we at least get them to pick up the trash that’s littered all over,shovel sidewalks in winter etc. in exchange for 3 hots and a cot?

posted by: Threefifths on May 1, 2014  9:21pm

posted by: Dwightstreeter on May 1, 2014 5:14pm

Three Fifths: The CT Constitution lacks the provision of the NYS Constitution that made the suit successful.

Any other thought on a law suit?

What part of the CT Constitution lacks the provision of the NYS Constitution that made the suit successful.Did you read the law suit.

posted by: robn on May 1, 2014  10:52pm

3/5,

If something is lacking something else, then EVERY part of it is lacking that other thing.

posted by: Dwightstreeter on May 2, 2014  8:58am

Three-fifths:

According to one of the articles you cited, “the lawsuit pointed to Article XVII of the New York State Constitution, which declares that “the aid, care and support of the needy are public concerns and shall be provided by the state and by such of its subdivisions…

I could find no equivalent in the CT Constitution. Although the right to defend one’s self with guns surprised me.

Since I am sympathetic to the idea that a law suit could make a difference, is there a place in the Ct Constitution that you think is equivalent?

posted by: Threefifths on May 2, 2014  9:39am

posted by: Dwightstreeter on May 2, 2014 8:58am

I could find no equivalent in the CT Constitution. Although the right to defend one’s self with guns surprised me.

Since I am sympathetic to the idea that a law suit could make a difference, is there a place in the Let the courts make a decision that you think is equivalent?

This is why we have courts.Let the courts make a decision if it is in the CT Constitution. Robert Hayes filed thelawsuit based on peoples experiencing homelessness the right to shelter in New York City.

posted by: Dwightstreeter on May 2, 2014  10:08am

Three-fifths:

Courts can’t make a law that doesn’t exist - although the power to interpret allows for some creativity.

If there is no specific responsibility in the CT Constitution - which there is in the NY - then the court can’t create one.

The Legislature would be the proper place to argue for a change that encompasses some responsibility for our fellow humans.

New York historically has been in the vanguard. CT is a cautious state that waits to see what its progressive neighbors do, then eventually goes that route. But don’t look to CT to be innovative.

Oh for the days when a Lyndon Johnson, flawed though he was, wanted an end to poverty. Who even dreams big dreams like this any more.

Not our millionaires in the political system.

posted by: Threefifths on May 2, 2014  12:11pm

posted by: Dwightstreeter on May 2, 2014 10:08am

Three-fifths:

Courts can’t make a law that doesn’t exist - although the power to interpret allows for some creativity.

If there is no specific responsibility in the CT Constitution - which there is in the NY - then the court can’t create one.


I found out you can also enforce the US -McKinney Vento Act

Surprisingly many people are unaware of what the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act is. This is a United States federal law that was published in July 1987 and it provides federal money for homeless shelter programs. Because in the 1980s homeless had reached a worrying percentage, this was considered to be a fortunate and significant federal legislative response to the phenomenon. This same act has been re-authorized many times since then. It had a great impact since it was the first important federal legislative response to the homeless issue. The law was initially passed by President Ronald Reagan and signed by him.

The McKinney Act had fifteen programs in the beginning. These programs would provide a wide range of services to homeless people. Some examples would be the Continuum of Care Programs such as the Supportive Housing Program, and the Single Room Occupancy Program, the Shelter Care Program, as well as the Emergency Shelter Grant one.

The Interagency Council on Homelessness, initially called the Interagency Council on the Homeless was established by this federal law. The name of the bill is formed of the names of two representatives: one Republican and one Democrat. Their names are Stewart McKinney and Bruce Vento.

So you can go to federal court.

U.S. Code § 11301

(6) the Federal Government has a clear responsibility and an existing capacity to fulfill a more effective and responsible role to meet the basic human needs and to engender respect for the human dignity of the homeless.

http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/42/11301

posted by: NewHaven06511 on May 2, 2014  3:51pm

New Haven deserves credit for compassion. Only one of CT towns that spends its tax dollars for this purpose. Story in Register mentioned shelter resident from Stamford, one in the Yale Daily link notes someone from Hartford. So maybe time for other cities to spend, not just one haven. Columbus House is great; A lot of its leaders live in Branford and other towns. Time for those towns to build shelters, too.

posted by: 1Advocate on May 2, 2014  9:17pm

NewHaven06511:
The Eddy Shelter of Middlesex County is funded by the tax dollars of towns all across Middlesex especially Middletown and Durham. It is also funded by donations from all across the state, and private foundations. Each community has a responsibility to take care of its citizens, and does not get brownie points for “compassion” which is an emotion and does not really help people who are dying on the streets and are in need of action.

The problem is the lack of a sense of responsibility to one another and of community. If we truly loved our neighbors we would realize that questions like “How much of the region’s homeless population should the City provide for?” are absurd. Am I my brother’s keeper? YES I AM!

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on May 3, 2014  9:11pm

Since when is concentrating at-risk populations in small geographic areas the moral position? A ghetto cannot raise a child - that takes a village.

What is a ghetto?

It’s similar to a neighborhood, but contains a disproportionate share (concentration) of at-risk people while lacking the support necessary to uplift people.

What is a village?

It’s an identifiable place that contains a mix of people, opportunities and services within a contained geographic area.

Does New Haven have too many ghettos? Does it have enough villages?

Does continuing to concentrate at-risk and in-need populations within the City of New Haven help create more ghettos or does it help create more villages?

How can anyone who is serious about addressing the social problems we face as a region support the expansion of service providing facilities for at-risk and in-need populations within the City of New Haven like homeless shelters - and in a low-income neighborhood nonetheless? That doesn’t sound like a very moral position to me at all.

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