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Shelter Chief Opens Doors, Promises Repairs

by Thomas MacMillan | Jun 23, 2014 5:12 pm

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

Posted to: City Hall, Housing, Social Services

Leaking toilet? That just happened. Peeling air ducts? Painters are coming soon. Missing tiles? Repairs are underway.

Just don’t take any pictures. That would be bad for the clients.

Arnold Johnson offered those updates on the condition of the Emergency Shelter Management Services during a Monday afternoon tour of the Grand Avenue facility, where he is the director.

The tour followed a Monday morning press conference at City Hall, where advocates for the homeless lambasted the Grand Avenue shelter. Among them was Flor Jones, a 51-year-old who was kicked out of the shelter last Thursday, after he took pictures of missing bathroom tiles and fixtures, and peeling paint in the shelter.

Johnson, who has served as the director at the shelter since last July, said that Jones was kicked out for violating shelter policy, and that repairs are coming soon.

Johnson would not allow the Independent to take pictures or video inside the shelter’s bathrooms or dormitory. Johnson cited the privacy and anonymity of his clients as reasons forbidding photos; the areas were totally vacant at the time because the shelter had not yet opened for the eventing. Click the video above to see his explanation.

Johnson confirmed that Jones was indeed kicked out of the shelter last week in part for taking photos.  “That is a violation of privacy,” Johnson said. He claimed that Jones’ picture-taking was making other people uncomfortable. “We don’t know what he took” pictures of.

Johnson said Jones had stayed over 90 days, was not complying with his case manager, and had been given several extensions.

As for the problems that Jones photographed, the shelter is making repairs, Johnson said. “Some things don’t happen over night.”

Tomás Reyes, the mayor’s chief of staff, toured the building Monday. Afterwards, he said he saw no reason to close it down.

“The allegations that were made by some of the activists, in my view, ware not accurate. There is some work that needs to be done. I’m satisfied Mr. Johnson is working on it. It’s not a new building.” Reyes said he saw no exposed insulation. He also said the toilets and showers were working.

Reyes said he would try Monday afternoon to find a bed somewhere in town for Jones. For now, Reyes said, the 90-day rule remains in force, a condition under the shelter’s contract with the city. That rule is under reconsideration as part of negotiations over extending the shelter’s contract with the city at the end of the month.

Meanwhile, United Way’s Amy Casavina Hall said that while it’s important to keep shelters safe and sanitary, that’s not ultimately where people should be focusing their energy if they want to end homelessness.

75 Beds

The Grand Avenue shelter is in its 25th year. It has 75 dormitory beds for homeless men. Men can stay for free, or pay $4 a day to claim a bed and store one bag inside.

Men are allowed to stay for up to 90 days, and required to sign up for case-management services by 30 days. They may qualify for up to three two-week extensions if they are making progress toward employment or housing.

When men arrive, their bags are searched and they are given a towel. After they shower, they return the used towel to get clean sheets for one of the 75 beds.

Johnson (pictured above) walked through the dimly lit dormitory Monday, where beds are laid out in a close grid. Each bed had a pillow, many of them discolored, and a heavily used blanket.

Johnson said the sheets on the beds are new everyday and the orange blankets are washed “often.”

Johnson pointed out two TVs, one large one and a smaller one used mostly to watch Spanish-language programs.

Asked about temperature control, which Jones had complained about, Johnson said the shelter turns the shelter’s air conditioning system on early every day to cool the dormitory before the men arrive in the afternoon. One day, Johnson said, staff forgot to turn it on. He said the air conditioning and fans are sufficient to cool the building.

Johnson entered the bathrooms. He pointed to two discolored mirrors and said they’re due for replacement; he’s just waiting for the right adhesive.

A toilet was leaking water onto the floor. Johnson said it was a brand new commode that someone seemed to have put a hole in. It will be fixed, he said. He said he suspects the toilet may have been sabotaged.

Johnson pointed out freshly laid tiles on the floor, and fans drying the grout.

He pointed out the bathroom’s five shower stalls, including one with new fixtures. The showers have no curtains, so that people can’t hide behind them for illicit activity, like drug use, Johnson said.

One lamp, suspended above the showers and caked with dust and dirt, had only one florescent tube bulb in its four slots. “They’re going to replace the bulbs,” Johnson said. “The one bulb is actually really bright.”

Throughout the bathroom and dormitory, paint was peeling in sheets off of air ducts. “It’s going to be painted,” Johnson said. “Probably this week.”

“A Little Disgusting”

Men milling outside the shelter, waiting to be let in, offered mixed reviews of conditions inside.

“The toilets are constantly overflowing,” said one. “It’s like a river almost.”

“Everything could be better,” said another, who described himself as a poet, just two weeks out of prison. “The a.c. is off. The bathroom is all fucked up. ... Everything is just fine, it just looks a little disgusting. This isn’t a place you want to call your home, anyways.”

“There’s mold everywhere,” said Kosmo Davis (pictured above), a recent transplant from San Diego. “I’ve been in a lot of missions. This is one of the worst.”

“It’s like an old garage or tire shop,” said a man.

Another man questioned whether the homeless have any right to expect anything better. “How can we complain?”

Focus

“There’s no question that shelters should be safe and meet standards,” said Casavina Hall, United Way’s vice president of income and health initiatives. “That’s not the debate. The question is how do we invest our resource on the real problem, which is that people are homeless.”

If people want to really end homelessness, and not simply manage it, resources should go toward putting people in homes, Casavina Hall said. “That’s where we should put our focus and keep our focus.”

Unfortunately, the system that has been created over the last 30 years, does not have housing as its focus, she said. “Now many people are working together to change that.”

The city is in the middle of an ambitious 100-day campaign to house the majority of the city’s chronically homeless, part of a nationwide 100,000 Homes campaign. The initiative aims to change the way the city’s social services agencies address the problem of homelessness, focusing on housing first.

A previous version of this story follows:

City Promises Action On Shelter

Thomas MacMillan Photo Four days after he was kicked out of a Fair Haven homeless shelter, Flor Jones came to City Hall and secured three promises from a top city official.

Jones (pictured), who’s 51 and has been homeless for over seven years, entered City Hall Monday morning with about 10 supporters. He first registered a complaint about conditions at the Grand Avenue Shelter, which kicked him out after he took pictures of missing bathroom tiles and fixtures, peeling paint, and mold.

Emergency Shelter Management Services, which runs the shelter, did not return a call for comment by press time.

Jones Thursday night knocked on the door of Mayor Toni Harp’s home to complain. (She wasn’t there.) Monday morning he met at City Hall with Tomás Reyes, the mayor’s chief of staff. After hearing Jones’ report about the shelter, Reyes promised to take a look himself, to set up a meeting between the Jones and the shelter’s director, and to try to get Jones back into the shelter.

Monday’s events stemmed from an incident last Thursday, the night that Jones was kicked out of the shelter. Jones had taken pictures showing a variety of problems. He said the shelter management immediately sent him packing and told him he was banned for life from the shelter.

Jones called some homelessness activists from the Amistad Catholic Worker house in the Hill, who have been working on the issue of shelters. Jones ended up visiting the mayor’s house that night to try to talk about what had happened to him.

On Monday, the activists called a press conference on the steps of City Hall, to push the issue further.

It was the latest in a number of recent confrontation between members of the Amistad Catholic Worker group and the city administration. Two of the main activists, Gregory WIlliams and Mark Colville, were arrested in May after setting up a camp for the homeless on a vacant city lot.

With people in the city sleeping on the streets, and the shelters not able to meet the need, “City Hall still has a question before them,” Colville said on Monday. “Where, then, shall we go? Housing is a human right.”

Williams (pictured), a Yale divinity school student, announced the group’s demands: Legalize sleeping outside, restore all shelter beds, improve the city’s housing policies to provide homes for more people.

Williams said the activists will be taking over another vacant lot on July 24, if no progress is made before then.

After addressing the press, the group filed into the office of the Livable CIty Initiative, New Haven’s anti-blight agency.

“I’d like to file a formal complaint,” Jones said.

A receptionist, who declined to give her name, took down Jones’ report about conditions at the Grand Avenue Shelter: uncleanliness, mold, mildew, bedbugs, broken tiles, exposed insulation.

“I’m going to give this to a supervisor,” she promised.

The group moved to the Community Services Administration offices, where Reyes, the mayor’s chief of staff, was called down.

“I’m going to talk to three people,” he said. Reyes (at left in photo) took Williams, Colville, and Jones into a conference room, and asked Jones to explain the situation.

“The big ask,” Williams said after Reyes was briefed, is “can we get a bed for this gentleman?”

“I’m concerned about the things you’re telling me,” Reyes said. “We’re the funder” for the shelter. “This is critical.”

Reyes promised to visit the shelter to see conditions for himself, arrange a meeting between Jones and the shelter director, and try to get a bed for Jones.

Reyes assured Jones, Williams, and Colville that Jones would face no retaliation from the shelter or the city for speaking out.

“Direct action gets the goods!” Williams said triumphantly, back outside City Hall.

Jones was more circumspect. “We’ll see how it goes.”

“Now I have to find another $28,” he said, to pay the $4-per-night shelter fee for a week.

 

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posted by: webblog on June 23, 2014  2:09pm

posted by: webblog on June 20, 2014 1:03pm

“The community Services department was the department to seek redress for their grievance.

“The group should have complained to LCI”,

I am satisfied to see that this group calmed down and followed the diplomatic route, suggested by me on June 20, 2014.

“Direct action gets the goods, Williams said triumphantly, back outside City Hall”.

However, I continue to take issue with Reyes’s account that:

“I’m concerned about the things you’re telling me,” Reyes said. “We’re the funder” for the shelter. “This is critical.”

“We’re the funder for the shelter”... Mr. Reyes your current 2014 year budget does not support that statement, nor does your recently 2015 budget provide “funds” to the emergency shelter on Grande Ave.

Please explain that truth, Mr. Reyes..!

posted by: Atticus Shrugged on June 23, 2014  2:13pm

I’m still incensed by the action of this group last week.  To be fair, the outcome of today’s meeting was the only outcome that Jones or anyone else could have hoped to receive.  That is what makes going to the Mayor’s home with media in tow (allowing itself to be used while knowing no actionable result could have occurred) in advance of going through ordinary channels so blatantly disrespectful and egregious.  There was literally NOTHING the mayor in her capacity could have or should have done for Jones that evening that would have been prudent.  After all, allegations of neglect and improper eviction are not something that can be resolved at night.  So, their “direct” action yielded little more than they would have otherwise received.  That does not justify an invasion of privacy.

I’m glad that Mr. Reyes has taken a measured, we’ll examine the issue and make a response when we’ve had time to investigate rather than simply reinstating the gentleman.  To the extent the divinity students want to set up “illegal” outdoor sleeping arrangements, that is in theory their right.  As it is the right of the city to either disband the camps or arrest them.

posted by: Dwightstreeter on June 23, 2014  2:46pm

It is the right of the people to petition the government and it is a constitutionally protected right. Whether it is done by ballot or in an impromptu meeting, it is still a right.

Atticus likely has a home and a job, so he doesn’t feel any pressing need for issues like this to be dealt with.

People have been too damned nice for too long.

Show up and petition your governmental leaders whenever you want.

Hopefully there will be a Tomas Reyes to listen - and act.

posted by: Atticus Shrugged on June 23, 2014  3:11pm

@ DS, which could be an abbreviation for a better suited name, I am fine with the petitioning of the government - through the normal channels.  As I said, no attempt was made here to go through those channels.  And the mayor, at home, is not a public servant.  Indeed, as I know from going through City Hall, the Mayor’s office staff and door is always there during business hours.  The press could have gone in tow from 9 to 5.  Same result would have occurred.

So, yes, I am concerned about the invasion of privacy at home.  As for the comment about knocking on doors for solicitations of donations or votes, those aren’t done with the press in tow.  More importantly, those are requests being made of individual citizens not of an official in his or her public capacity.  That is the major difference here.  A man was seeking a public act from an official in her off time, at her private place of residence.  It’s no different from going to a judge’s house to begin the process of serving divorce papers on your wife.  It’s ineffective! 

The mere fact that you might, arguable, have a right to do something doesn’t make it the right thing to do.  If that were the case, all actions within our free will - which we have a right to exercise - become justified and must be permitted by society.  I just happen to disagree with that.

posted by: Threefifths on June 23, 2014  4:46pm

posted by: Atticus Shrugged on June 23, 2014 3:11pm

The mere fact that you might, arguable, have a right to do something doesn’t make it the right thing to do.  If that were the case, all actions within our free will - which we have a right to exercise - become justified and must be permitted by society.  I just happen to disagree with that.

But what may be wroug to you,May be right to them.I agreed with them.


My bad.The city will be selling them snake-oil on this.

posted by: robn on June 24, 2014  10:57am

The mayors home is private. Its not public like the White House or Gracie Mansion. The protest visit was targeted and is unlike a visit by a salesperson or political pollster who indiscriminately visits all houses in a neighborhood. By their own admission, protesters admitted to wanting to provoke arrest; this testifies about how uniquely inappropriate this was.

posted by: fastdriver on June 24, 2014  11:30am

Are we PAYING a private company to run this shelter? WHY? The guy in charge seems to have a LOT of excuses for the conditions there. Just because people are homeless, doesn’t mean they have to live in slumlord conditions! We have enough of those slumlord apartments in New Haven where the conditions are the same as the shelter OR WORSE!

How sad for all concerned.

posted by: Jones Gore on June 24, 2014  3:27pm

As I had said before the issue of homelessness goes beyond housing. People have issues of drug abuse, alcoholism,criminal records/probation orders requiring men to stay in a shelter, and people with income who don’t want to pay for an apartment. 

Coming after any shelter in the city because of peeled paint, leaky toilets and whatever will not address the issues behind homelessness. The Shelter is just here to provide a place to stay over night, get a meal, and case management to assist in getting housing.

posted by: Obrero on June 24, 2014  4:36pm

Yes Jones Gore, but there are a few other issues around homelessness that you forgot to mention, like: 1) The economy in this nation and in this city have evolved in such a way as to create a permanent underclass who cannot afford the basic necessities, and until that changes, the people who make up that underclass have a basic human right not to live in misery.  Sleeping with bedbugs, for example, = misery.  2) Being homeless and without a shelter bed is illegal in New Haven.  There is no place for a homeless person not in a shelter to sleep where he/she would not be risking arrest.  This creates large numbers of people with criminal records whose employment prospects are bleak.  3)There are not enough affordable apartments to house all of the low income people in this city.  The low income housing stock in this city has been in a steady decline for years, with nobody doing anything to stop it.  If the city was serious about ending homelessness, then they would make a law forbidding any redevelopment plan that doesn’t replace low income housing units one for one.  From there, we could begin to address the additional need… Anyway, these are just a few examples.  But your post just perpetuates the fantasy that homelessness is exclusively an individual problem resulting from bad personal choices.  And as the Amistad Catholic Worker is finding out, the people who preside over the nonprofit industrial complex get very upset when that fantasy gets challenged and homeless people actually decide that they have the power to demand their rights.

posted by: wendy1 on June 24, 2014  6:54pm

I hope NHI goes back in a couple of weeks for another look.

Meanwhile I am still working to provide homes.  I go to cityhall Wed.

posted by: Dwightstreeter on June 25, 2014  9:12am

To Atticus and Robn:

The Mayor has 24 hour security. A knock on the door is not the frightful thing you seem to imagine it to be.

People are increasingly desperate in a way that middle class folks can’t imagine.

If you want your activism polite and proper, then it will be ineffectual because the system does not work for the average person in New Haven. and you know it.

I for one am tired of the ilp service given to transparency and the bogus public hearings in which none of the creativity and needs of the people living here ever seems to make it into anything concrete. Witness the fiascos of the so-called Downtown Crossing and the Route 34 Plan of Development

Save your outrage for the injustice of an over-taxed and under-represented population that gets cheer leaders instead of change.

I salute the impolite activists for their courage in confronting all that is unfair, however they choose to do it, so long as it is non-violent.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on June 25, 2014  11:52am

Obrero,

25 years ago the City of New Haven had the highest number of subsidized housing units (low-income/affordable) per capita. The Housing Authority of New Haven was sued by tenants of the Elm Haven high rises due to the concentration of poor people in that project. As a result of that lawsuit, which the plaintiffs won, HANH was legally obligated to relocate hundreds of tenant into scattered site Section 8 units in non-impacted neighborhoods. New Haven cannot legally return to the concentration of subsidized, affordable housing units that we once had. Not only is it illegal, but in my opinion, it would be highly immoral to call for more low-income housing in a city already housing 50% of the region’s poor in just 20 square miles of land area.

You’re analysis about the state of the economy impacting homelessness is dead on, but I think you’ve taken a misstep by thinking that the city can do anything more to help address the issue. We must look to the Greater New Haven Region as a whole to address this issue. Perhaps New Haven shouldn’t be home to so many low-income people, perhaps we need policies that enable poor people to live dignified and functional lives in Woodbridge, Orange, Branford, Madison and North Haven, rather than dangerous, fearful, and opportunity-absent lives in decaying urban ghettos.

posted by: truth talker on June 25, 2014  2:36pm

Here are short and sweet answers. A homeless shelter is there to provide a warm bed, hot meal, hot water and services for those motivated to start change in thier lives. It is not meant to be he the tahj mahal. It beats sleeping on a cold dirty ground. With constant clts nightly in and out of the what shelter is going to be free of repairs or bed bugs. Show me one shelter that doesnt not have a contious bed bug problem. Why is the city just now concerned about a program they provide funding for. They have a responsibility to inspect and already KNOW the conditions of ALL shelters in new haven. These pictures from what i see do not warrant all this publicity. I have volunteered there and it is as clean as you can expect it to me, with a majority of clts that dont do thier part to keep it nice. My last problem is New Haven takes the brunt of all homeless individual from outside areas such as hamden, branford etc., why isnt the city putting something together where these towns pay a percentage yearly to NH for homeless services based off the number of people from that town served.

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