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City Hall Tells Hill Occupiers To Pack Up

by Paul Bass & Thomas MacMillan | May 15, 2014 1:49 pm

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

Posted to: Housing, Social Services, The Hill

Paul Bass Photo Thomas MacMillan Photo (Updated 5:23 p.m.) A replay of 2012’s Occupy New Haven showdown may be brewing in the Hill neighborhood, as the Harp administration Thursday afternoon “urged” homeless advocates to remove newly erected tents from a city-owned lot.

The three tents went up Thursday morning at the rear of a community garden at 211 Rosette St. The city owns the land; the New Haven Land Trust operates the garden.

The homeless advocates said they erected the tents in response to the closure earlier this month of the city’s 88-bed overflow shelter on Cedar Street for the homeless.

The Harp administration reacted by telling the homeless they have to leave. By later Thursday afternoon, both sides were digging in.

Erik Johnson (pictured leaving the scene), director of the Livable City Initiative (LCI), the city agency that handles lots like 211 Rosette, showed up at the encampment to deliver an ultimatum. He spoke for some 20 minutes with the homeless people there and their advocates.

“We saw their affirmative protest. We informed them that this is not the intended use of the land,” Johnson said as he left the lot around 4;30 with an LCI deputy, Frank D’Amore. “They have a choice: I hope that we don’t have to get the police involved. “

Johnson was asked how soon the campers have to respond before the city will send in the cops. “Sooner rather than later,” he responded.

Back at the encampment, the organizers said they already gave Johnson their answer. They’re not budging.

“As far as we’re concerned, we’re staying,” said organizer Williams. “I made that very clear.”

Mayor Toni Harp met with officials in City Hall within hours of the encampment’s emergence Thursday. Her spokesman issued this statement after that meeting: “The City of New Haven has a long and unwavering commitment to address the challenge of homelessness.  This past year, the City dedicated more than $1 million in general funds and other city services to the issue.  Nevertheless, the City recognizes that this is not enough to address the problem and is committed to figuring out how best to resolve it.  Setting up temporary quarters on the city-owned parcel at 70 Rosette Street, while dramatizing the problem, does not move us sufficiently toward necessary practical solutions.  The City urges those who have set up tents on this land to dismantle them, and then work with us to develop viable solutions to the issue because the City cannot permit them to stay.”

Thomas MacMillan File Photo City Hall took a more welcoming stance when homeless advocates set up a tent city on the Upper Green in the fall of 2011 as part of the national Occupy movement. Months later, as the tent city grew and people raised public-health concerns, the administration of then-Mayor John DeStefano ended up clashing with homeless advocates for weeks, and went to federal court, in a messy, ultimately successful quest to evict the encampment in April of 2012. Then the city drew up new rules to prevent such an encampment from reestablishing itself there.

“It’s Rough Out There”

Organizers set up the tents in the rear of the Rosette Street lot, away from the plants.

The crew finished erecting the tents around noon, then held a press conference.

“We didn’t see a need to ask” permission to erect the tents, said organizer Gregory Williams. “The purpose of the Land Trust is to take unused land and use it for the common good. This is the common good.”

Besides erecting the three tents, the crew—including members of the Amistad Catholic Worker House two doors away—spent the morning clearing garbage from the land. After a noon press conference announcing the encampment, they sat down to a communal meal. Williams said some of the people planning to sleep in the tents have agreed to help tend the garden.

Gregory Abraham (pictured) is among those planning to sleep in the tents. He said he has been homeless since his mother died in 1996. He said he was staying at the overflow shelter before it closed. Several years ago he stayed at a tent city in the woods off Marginal Drive at the New Haven-West Haven border, before authorities shut it down.

“It’s rough out there” for the homeless, Abraham said. “It’s not getting easier. It’s getting harder.”

Another homeless man planning to stay in the tents, Leo Donis (pictured), said he prefers that set-up to the other sites where he and others have camped since the overflow shelter closed. They take turns sleeping and standing guard at those other sites, he said.

“We’ve got to be like soldiers,” he said.

“Don’t worry,” Barbara Smith (pictured, with Williams to her right), who lives next door to the lot, told the gathering at the lot Thursday. “When they’re sleeping, I’ll be watching” to make sure everyone’s safe.

Thursday’s action coincided with a 100-day emergency drive, organized by the United Way, to find long-term shelter for 75 percent of the city’s homeless. The advocates involved in Thursday’s Rosette Street action have been protesting the seasonal closure of the 88-bed overflow shelter on Cedar Street.

Justin Elicker, who runs the not-for-profit Land Trust, was still exploring his options when asked early Thursday afternoon about the surprise development at the group’s Rosette Street garden. He spoke of both legal and ethical responsibilities the Trust must weigh.

“I think the Land Trust’s ethical responsibility is to help people who are struggling and help them find solutions when it intersects with our property,” Elicker said. “While I want to be able to facilitate these folks having a place to go, I’ve already reached out to Columbus House [emergency shelter] to get more information on what their options are. At the same time we need to be respectful of the people who are participating in our community gardens. We can’t treat different community gardens in different ways. It’s not sustainable for us to say, ‘At any community garden in the city, you’re welcome to sleep as well.’ It’s not realistic. It’s not fair to people who are keeping the gardens clean and working hard to have ownership over the gardens.”

The Trust recently had to prevent a homeless man from sleeping in a greenhouse at another garden, Elicker said.  “We just can’t allow people to sleep on our properties in places where we have community gardeners as well. We’ll do everything we can to help this population, particularly since it’s part of our mission of providing support with low-cost and no-cost food for groups that are struggling.”

The Land Trust supports close to 50 community gardens around town.

As far as he could tell, Elicker said, he doesn’t believe the Trust has a lease from the city to operate the garden on Rosette.

“That means we’re in a tricky situation. We don’t have a lot of authority over this site. The city has the authority to do whatever it wants,” Elicker said.

City Corporation Counsel Victor Bolden said he needed to look into the matter before commenting. So did mayoral spokesman Laurence Grotheer. Livable City Initiative (LCI) Director Erik Johnson, whose agency is responsible for city-owned lots, failed to respond to repeated requests for comment before this story was published. Bolden met with Mayor Toni Harp and others around 2 p.m. to discuss the city’s response. In the discussion he suggested crafting a statement affirming the city’s interest in engaging in “dialogue” about the homeless but not allowing the tents to remain on the property. (Snippets of the discussion were overheard via an unintentionally dialed cell phone; most of the conversation was not audible.) The officials also discussed whether the statement should come from Harp herself or from Bolden.

Gregory Williams made clear his group’s legal take on the matter: “People have a right to take refuge together.”

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Comments

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on May 15, 2014  2:12pm

Right…because when I think of what is beneficial for homeless people, I think of a tent placed on a vacant lot - the quintessential symbol of urban decay and neglect - within a distressed neighborhood suffering from high crime rates, low economic opportunity, and the illicit drug trade?

The compassion of the people involved with this effort is very inspiring and commendable. However, I can’t help but think that this effort is somewhat misguided. Is the Hill going to succeed as a mecca for the homeless and will the homeless succeed if their home is a neighborhood still struggling with unemployment, crime and neglect? There are 11 other towns in our region that haven’t done their share for the region’s in-need populations for the last 50 years. New Haven has tried to provide for these populations but it simply isn’t realistic that one small municipality can house an entire region’s poor, drug-addicted, homeless, parolees, etc. without having negative budgetary, economic development, and social wellbeing consequences.

posted by: Dwightstreeter on May 15, 2014  4:41pm

So Jonathan: When does the bus to Milford or Hamden or Branford leave so the homeless can relocate and make the perfect political statement?

I don’t mean to be cranky with you, but the lack of options for our vulnerable citizens is increasingly desperate.

Now people don’t even have the freedom to sleep under a bridge.

posted by: robn on May 15, 2014  4:45pm

Do any of the so called “organizers” have a backyard that these people can camp in? If so, why not?

posted by: Fairhavener on May 15, 2014  5:10pm

What Jonathan Hopkins said.

posted by: Threefifths on May 15, 2014  5:24pm

posted by: robn on May 15, 2014 4:45pm

Do any of the so called “organizers” have a backyard that these people can camp in? If so, why not?

How do you explain this.

Homelessness surges among veterans of recent wars

http://www.13wmaz.com/story/news/military/2014/01/16/homelessness-surges-among-veterans-of-recent-wars/4537197/

We need more housing.

posted by: Megan on May 15, 2014  5:35pm

Jonathan Hopkins and robn:

Mark Colville and his family have opened the doors of their own home to the homeless for decades. It’s called Amistad Catholic Worker House on 203 Rosette Street, just two doors from where they erected tents.

On any given day half a dozen people without homes sleep under their roof, sharing the house with Mark, his wife and his children. The family also opens the doors of their home for breakfast and lunch Monday through Friday, and anyone in the neighborhood or in need is welcome at the table. Their doors are open once a week for Bible study and discussion. On Thursdays, they have “give and take” which is where people can donate food and clothing or pick up food and clothing, including lots of fresh food given away by Bishop’s Orchard and nearby supermarkets.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on May 15, 2014  5:38pm

robn,

I don’t think Rosette Street was chosen at random. Several of the organizers here live on that street. This particular group featured in this article isn’t made up of limousine liberals from the suburbs who are trying to use New Haven as a guinea pig for some social experiment. These are people genuinely invested in the neighborhood and the homelessness cause with skin in the game.

I happen to think the effort is somewhat misguided, though Dwightstreeter has a good point and sometimes in a crisis an ideal solution is tough to come by, so solutions like the one presented in this article are necessary.

Dwightstreeter,

I agree that New Haven’s suburban town’s cannot adequately provide for these populations in their current form. My point is that the suburbs need to be made accessible for a cross-section of New Haven’s population, not just wealthy families that can afford multiple cars and a single family house.

Implied in my argument is that the suburbs need to come up with ways to accommodate their portion of the region’s population that make for desirable places to live. If I were to be in charge of coming up with those ways, I would first develop the historic town centers of our surrounding suburbs to be denser and a bit larger. Then I would build mixed-income residential communities near large concentrations of jobs in suburban office parks and shopping centers like the Hamden Plaza, Boston Post Road, Universal Drive, etc. Then I would expand transit to connect the town centers and job concentrations with each other and New Haven. The key is developing walkable, transit connected places outside of New Haven so that the inner city no longer has to be the only place where people-in-need can find refuge, since after a while of being the only game in town, that refuge turns into a black hole for opportunity ie a ghetto.

Greater New Haven needs less inner city ghettos and exclusionary subdivisions, and more equally distributed villages.

posted by: robn on May 15, 2014  6:54pm

MEGAN,

The community garden was presumably created with the consent and efforts of the neighborhood. We’re tents erected here with the same community consent and effort?

posted by: robn on May 15, 2014  7:06pm

MEGAN,

PS, the Catholic Workers may earnestly believe that humans aren’t a commodity but many of us believe that having others submit to proselytization is in its own way usurious and commodifying.

posted by: wendy1 on May 15, 2014  7:11pm

@ jon hopkins—-get real !!!  Dont expect those lily white suburbs rich or poor to do anything in your lifetime.

The United Way and friends are scrambling to find apts. for around 100 people.  Dont expect altruistic landlords to rush forward.

The solution is for the city to face the awful truth.  City land and city buildings must house homeless men women and children.  To leave these people out in the cold is a mortal sin…and I’m an atheist!!  The economy is not going to get better or provide jobs but society must provide housing for our fellow humans.  Homelessness and poverty are growing.  The denial and indifference of so many makes me sick and ashamed.

posted by: HewNaven on May 15, 2014  7:24pm

“We didn’t see a need to ask” permission to erect the tents, said organizer Gregory Williams. “The purpose of the Land Trust is to take unused land and use it for the common good. This is the common good.”

This is a misinformed statement. The goal of any land trust (e.g. NHLT) is to protect parcels like this one. Hence the manifestation of community gardens, nature preserves, etc. in otherwise habitable places. That means people shouldn’t try to pitch a tent there. One’s own self interest does not necessarily equal the “common good” as Williams puts it.

This is a publicity stunt, and for a good cause, so there’s no need to put one’s foot in one’s mouth. One can learn from the mistakes of the Occupy movement. “Be humble and speak the truth, or no one will listen.”

posted by: Senior Lady on May 15, 2014  7:31pm

A real hot summer is expected and we will be hearing about how they will be opening several facilities to get people out of the heat. How much does that cost? The answer is simple open ceder street all year. If i am not midstaken i think the hill health center owns the property. Does toni harp still remain on their payroll?  If not she should certainly use her influnce and her connections to get some sort of funding to have the shelter opened year round. Eighty eight beds empty. Shamful.

posted by: Threefifths on May 15, 2014  9:30pm

This reminds me of the Aug. 6 1988 Tompkins Square Park Riot.Hey Robin there slogan was “Gentrification is Class War.”

Tompkins Square Park Riot.

First signs of trouble[edit]

Though the park was a de facto homeless shelter, some residents considered the police department’s actions an attempt to take the park away from the public. Protests were organized and a rally called for July 31.[7] That night, police entered the park in response to alleged noise complaints, and by the end of the call several civilians and six officers were treated for injuries, and four men were arrested on charges of reckless endangerment and inciting to riot.[8] Sarah Lewison, an eyewitness, said the protest was over rumors of a midnight curfew at the park and another witness, John McDermott, said the police provoked the melee.[8] Angry organizers planned another rally.


http://youtu.be/bunhcwSvil8

Like I said the Gentrification Vampires are coming.

posted by: cp06 on May 15, 2014  9:55pm

Isn’t there currently some community project to get homes for homeless people—problem solved.

posted by: OccupyTheClassroom on May 15, 2014  10:05pm

Gardening good/ sleeping no good.

They are sleeping in a section that is not used for gardening.

Why did they have to clean up the place when Elicker said that the gardeners keep the place clean?  Elicker has a misguided notion of some of the community gardens.

Let them police themselves. Offer community policing to this area.

In some states erecting a tent in your own yard is now illegal.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on May 15, 2014  10:38pm

Megan,

I know. I’m not sure why you decided to include me in that response. I’m humbled greatly by the efforts of the people mentioned in this article. I merely think that the solution to Greater New Haven’s homelessness issue cannot be limited to one town in the region.

Wendy1,

“Dont expect those lily white suburbs rich or poor to do anything in your lifetime.”

I fear what our country would be like if the people who fought for school integration had that same kind of defeatist attitude.

If an injustice exists, you fight until it is addressed, regardless of how difficult it is and how much push-back there is.

The fact that one municipality in the region houses 50% of the region’s poor, nearly all of the homeless, drug addicted, and parolee services is a grave injustice. You are correct that suburban towns won’t willingly provide for these populations, which is why it will likely require a State law and enforcement, similar to school integration.

“City land and city buildings must house homeless men women and children.”

If by “City” you mean the municipality of the City of New Haven, then I disagree with this statement. If by “City” you mean the sprawling 13-town metropolitan region of Greater New Haven, then I agree that this “City” should provide housing for all of it’s homeless population. But that housing should be spread between all 13 towns, not concentrated in just one.

There is much more economic opportunity outside of New Haven, then inside of it. The key is figuring out how to unlock that opportunity for those without cars and enough money to buy houses in the suburbs. I think the key will be to develop new walkable residential communities near job centers, developing existing town centers and expanding transit service.

posted by: William Kurtz on May 16, 2014  6:24am

“Do any of the so called “organizers” have a backyard that these people can camp in? If so, why not?”

Maybe everyone with a back yard should be required to offer space for people in need to camp in.

Maybe it should be a zoning requirement that all apartment buildings in ‘prime downtown real estate’, with easy (or easier) access to services and public transportation maintain a few small apartments or dormitory style rooms for people in need.

I wouldn’t call myself a Marxist by any means but I do know that a corollary of some people having nearly unlimited economic power is that there will be a corresponding—usually greater—number of people with nearly none. Referring to them as ‘these people’ won’t change that fundamental and inevitable consequence of economics. Even if they were able to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, they would just displace those already dangling from the last rung of the ladder. That’s how it works.

The, uh, ‘inconvenient truth’ though is that ‘these people’, by virtue of being human beings, have the same inherent right to dignity and security as the taxpayers, the job-creators, the 1%, and the rest of those people who’ve ‘made it’ in our completely fair, merit-based, race and class-blind capitalist system.

Take the money those other useless consultants got paid-and want to get paid in the future—to walk around talk about ‘Main Street’ or whatever and just give it to Hopkins; he seems consistently to have the best ideas. He ought to get paid for them.

posted by: Noteworthy on May 16, 2014  7:01am

Harp spent years as the director of homeless services and the city has spent millions over those same years on homeless programs. Anybody ever seek a solution? Meanwhile, the Housing Authority has spent hundreds of millions on new projects with apparently, no SRO facilities. Why?

posted by: wendy1 on May 16, 2014  1:01pm

@ jon hopkins

I need your help.  I am now working on the finance end of the River St. Project and have to approach the BOA and Sen. Looney for $$.  Call me at 203 498 7759.  An architect will do a site walk Fri. May 23.  The city of NH is interested and in the loop.

posted by: OccupyTheClassroom on May 16, 2014  4:39pm

LCI came in and evicted them today before 3 pm. Two people were arrested.

posted by: robn on May 16, 2014  5:12pm

WK

You can imply that my using the pronoun “these” makes me a meany and I can argue back that I find phrases like “the homeless” to be objectifying and dehumanizing but in the end we’ll be wasting our time. The real issue is that pitching tents for homeless people on random plots of public land doesn’t solve the homeless problem and is rife with problems including liability, safety, hygeine, special needs, etc. Not to mention that this garden was begun and maintained by neighbors who may not all agree on this secondary use. Staging a publicity stunt on a plot of land (owned by the city that spends over a million dollars per year on the homeless) is lazy and uses homeless people and neighbors as pawns. Do it on the Guilford Green or on the lawn of the Capitol Building and maybe the protest will draw the attention of people who are currently indifferent.

posted by: HewNaven on May 16, 2014  7:58pm

I second the idea that we try this on someone else’s town green (e.g. Guilford, West Haven, Woodbridge, etc.)

posted by: Dwightstreeter on May 16, 2014  8:15pm

The human beings without homes are generally not either inclined to protest or political organizing, but if you look at how effective Act UP and Love Makes a Family were in getting the government to respond to AIDS and civil rights for gay people, is there really any other route to getting a) attention and b) action?

Yes, there are groups working on the issue. I await proof of a solution.

In the meantime, anything that supports human life and a decent quality of life trumps property rights - at least to me.

Being all polite and proper simply doesn’t work to solve problems.

maybe the Humans Without Homes (feel free to take the name) should encamp at Board of Alders meetings or better yet, meetings of the Yale Corporation.

Perhaps someone can fund a bus tour of surrounding towns where the Humans Without Homes can set up camp, generate a controversy and be evicted time after time.

At least it would make them visible.

posted by: Jones Gore on May 18, 2014  3:25pm

This is an issue that can be solved if other cities and towns in regions were billed.

Gathering information about the homeless is useless if that information is not used to refer homeless men and women back to the communities where they originate.

Cities that already have homeless shelters need to unity to and lobby the state to pass a law that requires every town that has homeless population to open of a shelter.

Every town has a homeless population based upon the data collect but not every town is providing shelter for their homeless population. In stead they sending their homeless to cities that have homeless shelters which are over flowing of people who are residence of East Haven, Hamden ect.

posted by: Gretchen Pritchard on May 18, 2014  6:32pm

One obvious place to build housing for lower-income people is adjacent to suburban assisted-living complexes and hospitals.  It is ridiculous to have the staff for those facilities—almost entirely people of color and immigrants—commuting miles from their urban homes to these bucolic campuses, at considerable cost and inconvenience to themselves.  There ought to be on-campus affordable housing for staff and their children who are interested in such an arrangement.

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