Activists Set New Haven Green Proposal On Fire

Decrying a “war on the poor,” Sarah Raven set fire to a proposed new law that would make it illegal to sleep on the Green or to set foot on it after 10 p.m.

Raven (pictured) was one of number of speakers at a Friday morning press conference at the Amistad Catholic Worker house on Rosette Street in the Hill neighborhood. Homeless and homeless advocates gathered there to speak out against proposed amendments to the city ordinances that cover the Green.

City Corporation Counsel Victor Bolden drafted the amendments to address legal difficulties the city faced when it tried to evict the Occupy New Haven protest encampment off the Green in the spring of 2012.

Bolden said the changes are intended to clarify the relationship between the city and the Proprietors of the Green, the self-perpetuating private body that owns New Haven’s central square. (It contracts with the city to maintain it.)

The amendments would extend the rules that cover other parks to the Green, including a prohibition on sleeping overnight and on being on the Green between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.

The proposal will be subject to a hearing by the Board of Alders’ Legislation Committee, then a vote by the full board.

A law professor has already blasted Bolden’s proposal as unconstitutional. Now the amendments face another criticism—that they’re part of an effort to “criminalize homelessness,” to oppress the city’s poorest on behalf of its elite.

That was the message at Friday morning’s press conference, which drew about 20 people into the Amistad house’s kitchen, where portraits of civil rights leaders adorn the walls.

The Catholic Worker house is not a charity, Raven said. It’s a place where she and others “break bread” and share food with their neighbors, some of whom happen to be homeless. Those people are threatened by the proposed new laws, she said.

By making it illegal to sleep on the Green, the amendments would “take away the last refuge of some community members,” Raven said.

“We need a homeless bill of rights,” she said. “It’s time to take a stand and stop the war on the poor.”

Then she lit the proposed amendments on fire.

“Being homeless is not a crime,” said Kenny Driffin, a homeless outreach superstar, formerly employed at Columbus House. The Green is a refuge for homeless people, he said. “People feel safe on the Green.”

Driffin said about 10 people sleep on the Green each night in warmer weather. Another activist said it can be as many as 30.

“We should defend this plaza,” said activist Jon Lugo. “This is the main place people congregate. We should keep it free for the city of New Haven.”

“We’re going to ask for what it is we’re entitled to as citizens of the city,” said Father Richard Meadows, of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church,

Gregory Williams (at center in photo), a Yale Divinity School student who helped organize Friday’s press conference, said advocates will testify at upcoming public hearings on the proposed legislation. He urged people to sign a petition against the amendments.

That petition had 213 signers on Friday morning, including freshman Quinnipiac Meadows Alder Richard Spears.

Asked later about the issue, mayoral spokesman Laurence Grotheer said the Harp administration does not yet have a position on the proposal.

“The proposed ordinance amendments regarding the city’s parks and open spaces were drafted and submitted while the previous mayoral administration was still in office. Officials of the New Haven administration have not yet had an opportunity to review them but will do so as the amendments move through the process,” Grotheer stated.

East Rock Alder Jessica Holmes (pictured), the chair of the Legislation Committee, appeared at Friday’s press conference. She declined to comment. “I’m just here to listen,” she said.

She did accept an invitation to come back and have lunch at the house.

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posted by: robn on January 10, 2014  2:21pm

Trespass be damned, I’ll walk across the green at night until they fence it off and/or kill the lights.

Sleeping on the Green at night is a whole different ball of wax. People sleeping there often litter (newspaper blankets, vomit, etc.), make people feel unsafe and often demand greater police presence. It’s reasonable to ask people to sleep elsewhere especially since the city provides such a large proportion of CT’s homeless shelter (data below). If activists want to make a point, stop preaching to the choir and truck people out to suburban public spaces rather than punish the city that actually does OK by the homeless.

620 of CT’s 2200 homeless shelter beds are in New Haven (28% of beds provided by 4% of the states population).

20% of New Haven’s sheltered were from elsewhere and 91% were from Connecticut.

posted by: BetweenTwoRocks on January 10, 2014  3:48pm

I tend to agree that sleeping on the green should be frowned upon, though I’m not sure it should be criminalized.

Barring citizens from using it to cross after 10 pm, though? Surely you jest.

posted by: Atwater on January 10, 2014  4:09pm

Occupy the Green! Seriously, if ever there was a time to occupy the Green it would be now. The Green (ownership thereof) is a symbol for the inequitable paradigm which governs our top heavy society. The people of this city have a real chance to effect real and lasting change, even though it is only a question regarding the ownership of a small parcel of land in our humble city.

posted by: TheMadcap on January 10, 2014  5:36pm

ha, oh god, now we’re not even going to be able to legally access the center part of our city past 10pm. I’m sure all the bars and restaurants downtown will also love that given the amount of people who cut through the green.

What’s not being reported here though is part of the changes is also requiring obtaining a permit for any kind of organized event on the green no matter how small as well as paying the new fees involved. Aside from any potential censorship some groups might face, it places a financial burden on small organizations that limits their ability to congregate on the green.

posted by: Knuthcha on January 10, 2014  8:55pm

Robn- overnight shelters are not the solution for all homeless individuals! Some persons, due to conflict, age, gender identity, or mental illness, cannot sleep with the greater homeless population for fear of threats to their personal safety. For some, the green is a much safer option than the emergency shelter.

Being homeless is not illegal, but it seems it might as well be!

posted by: Gretchen Pritchard on January 10, 2014  9:47pm

Aren’t there buses that stop for passengers on the Green between 10 pm and 6 am?

There are certainly concerts and movies that let out after 10 pm, from which people cross the Green to get to their cars.  There are restaurants, bars and clubs that are open later than that—people leaving them should walk around the outside of the Green, but be arrested if they cross??????

I bet there’s a Christmas Eve service at at least one of those churches on the Green that lets out after 10 pm.

There are residential buildings (the Taft, the Old Campus) actually on the Green or within a block of it; people should not face a curfew in their own neighborhood except under rare emergency circumstances.

This idea is RIDICULOUS and OBNOXIOUS.  If it passed it would certainly be selectively enforced, which is bad lawmaking.  It deserves to bite the dust.

posted by: Billy on January 11, 2014  1:18am

Another important issue highlighted by the Amistad Catholic Worker community. Great job, Mark and Luz! New Haven would be a less just place without your consistent work to raise our collective awareness.

posted by: NoClovers on January 11, 2014  9:11am

The crowd living on the green is a serious issue. The crowd that occupies it routinely uses an inordinate amount of city resources and adds to the blight of the city—between police resources (disputes, drug use,  public intoxication, thefts) fire/ambulance (there are at least 5 emergency responses a day) and public works ( trash, graffiti, urine cleanup).

Not to mention the effect it has on local business when the impression of downtown is one of harassment for every dime you have as you walk by the green (not to be outdone by our state&fed; govt.)

Now, please tell me again how this ordinance is so bad and so unfair…

posted by: wendy1 on January 11, 2014  12:08pm

@ Josh and Robyn:

I would expect more empathy from you. Sleeping on a park bench is better than a doorway or the gutter.  Where do you expect the homeless in growing numbers unable to find overflow beds at churches to sleep.  I myself prefer heating grates.  I support these young people and want to join their demonstration.  The green is ours.

posted by: wendy1 on January 11, 2014  12:11pm

I made this comment separate because I dont know if Mr. Bass will print it.  I have a very feasable Fed funded plan (no city $$) for homeless housing.  Please call me @ 203 498 7759 and ask for wendy

posted by: Jones Gore on January 11, 2014  12:43pm

This Kenny Driffin is not much of an activist. He said people feel safe on the green, which is not true.

I know many homeless that stay on the green who have been assaulted and robbed. The stay on the Green because it is close in proximity to everything and lively during the day.

I think it should be prohibited to sleep on the green, but before that can happen the city and organizations need to implement a plan to address chronic homelessness.

This plan to move the homeless off the green is just a way to ignore a growing problem that is not being adequately address by by all municipalities. Homelessness is not a New Haven Problem, it is a regional problem. Area towns are providing services necessary to address the homeless issue that originates their back yard. If the City is going to bare the burden of other towns the maybe these towns need to be incorporated in to the city or a special tax needs to levied by the state to help New Haven deal with the homeless that comes from other towns.

posted by: Dwightstreeter on January 11, 2014  3:05pm

The spirit of the Patriot Act (ironically named) lives on. The promise is to keep us safe. All we have to do is give up some rights.
Noam Chomsky has officially pronounced the death of Democracy. Now we see the tombstones everywhere.

posted by: cedarhillresident! on January 11, 2014  7:22pm

I am not sure how I feel about this. I am in agreement with Robn on many of his points. But I think that before we do this we need to have an alternative.

From what I gather those who do not stay in shelters have addiction issues and the 3pm time that most shelters open interferes with the addiction. Some couples stay out of shelters because the shelters do not allow the couples to be together. Some feel safer not sleeping in the shelters for what ever personal reasons.

Some have suggested a camp city area, like the occupy camp (not on the green but in another location) . I believe that liability issues was why they said no to that.

So Robn shows some of the data with were our homeless come from. And I think we really need to go to a state level and start holding the suburbs more accountably for their homeless that they dump on the green. And when people are released from jail their hometowns need to start stepping up. I understand that the reasoning behind this is “we have more resources”. What are these resources???  I think most citys have the same resources just on a smaller level.

Reality is we live in the richest nation in the world (for now) and we should not have homeless.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on January 11, 2014  9:04pm

I get the sense that the changes being proposed for the City Ordinance in regards to the Green may result in limiting use of the Green should they pass, which is not what the Green needs.
Having said that, I agree with CHR and robn that New Haven’s homeless population isn’t really New Haven’s, but the region’s and it should be each town’s duty in this region to provide services and facilities for their portion of the region’s homeless.

posted by: cedarhillresident! on January 12, 2014  11:13am

JH It breaks my heart that people are homeless. It could be any of us.
The issues should be how do we end homelessness. I truly think that if a homeless person is cared for by their home citys and towns they would actually stand a better chance of coming out of it. When you pile a 600 people in one city fighting for all the same resources. but if the 169 town of CT each helped people we would see a significant drop in homelessness. Right now for the suburbs it is out of sight out of mind. But but 10-20 homeless people in their towns and not allow them to dump them on the green you bet they will do all they have to, to get them off the streets.

And as far as use of the green. Most public spaces you are suppose to get a permit to have gatherings and events. And as with those spaces you can have the fee waived I am sure you can get it waived for this space to. But if we open the green up to events we may actually see more use of it. Reality is this opens the door for fundraising event and gatherings that did not really have that opportunity.