Neighbors Decry Homeless Camp

Thomas MacMillan Photo(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.

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posted by: Gretchen Pritchard on July 24, 2014  1:20pm

If this is all about getting publicity, then they are doing the right thing:  with the help of the Independent, we are getting constant reminders that homeless housing is an issue.

But I don’t know how long they can keep assuming that “no publicity is bad publicity.”  Marching to Mayor Harp’s home was not the greatest idea.  Neither was this one. 

At the very least, they could have demonstrated their good will and seriousness by renting a port-a-potty and bringing it to the site along with the grill and tents, rather than making the absurd claim that the occupants of the encampment would walk ten minutes in the heat and humidity in order to use the toilet at Catholic Worker House.

posted by: HewNaven on July 24, 2014  1:49pm

Note to clueless activists: you should check with the neighborhood before you attempt to speak/act on its behalf.

posted by: eliantonio on July 24, 2014  2:46pm

If this group is angry with the mayor and city hall, then the “encampment” should be in front of herhonor’s house or city hall.
Or, perhaps, since they already have the tents, they can go to one of our states rustically beautifull state forests and live amongst nature. 
I personally suggest Devil’s Hopyard State Park.

posted by: Hill Resident on July 24, 2014  3:08pm

I was once homeless with a child. I did not become homeless because I spent my rent money on drugs and got evicted. I was not homeless because my dependence on alcohol caused me to miss so many days from work that I got fired and didn’t have money for rent. I was not homeless because of untreated mental health issues that kept me from keeping a job for any length of time and not have money for rent. I wasn’t homeless because I didn’t want to work two jobs and collect benefits from the state to make ends meet. But I was homeless nonetheless, which was not easy in the 70’s with a child as no shelters would take mothers with children at that time. But I had a job and friends I stayed with (and compensated)until I saved enough money for a room and a hot plate. There is no way anyone should be expected to take care of able bodied adults (they can do SOMETHING to earn ‘their keep’)who have no where to live, but seem to get enough money to get high or drunk ... I see them at the liquor store or the crack house! So if you weed them out, then there are less who NEED help. And there is plenty of room at St. Aedans, St Brendans, St. Thomas Moore, St Anthony’s, St. Bernadettes Church ... ALL catholic churches. They can set up camp there and there should be no problem ... do the Catholic workers know the addresses? They should or are they different kind of Catholics? I’m just saying. I applaud Mr. Shehadeh for standing up for the property HE worked hard to attain. Maybe if each of the ‘activists’ teach took one homeless person home that would help to reduce the numbers ... or not in YOUR back yard? Instead of just looking for lots to pitch a tent, can the activists find out what is the root of their homelessness and work on that? Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day; Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime. And maybe even be able to share HIS fish with someone less fortunate ... you know, like HE once was.

posted by: NewHaven06511 on July 24, 2014  3:32pm

maybe a regional solution? Hamden anyone? Woodbridge? etc

posted by: NewHaven06513 on July 24, 2014  3:59pm

Bravo NHI for advocating for our residents in need!!!
This situation needs a positive and long term solution. Why not renovate the old Gateway college campus on long wharf as a homeless shelter and transitional center to help our people get gave on their feet? It’s not near residential areas and provides easy access to the city. Oh, wait we can’t were going to take care of the illegal aliens first… Come on people wake up! Let’s take care of our neighbors first and then extend our help to other countries.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on July 24, 2014  4:35pm

posted by: Hill Resident on July 24, 2014 3:08pm

There is no way anyone should be expected to take care of able bodied adults (they can do SOMETHING to earn ‘their keep’)who have no where to live.

You need to read this.There are people working two and three jobs who are still homeless.

Having a Job, or 2, Doesn’t Mean Having a Home.

On many days, Alpha Manzueta gets off from one job at 7 a.m., only to start her second at noon. In between she goes to a place she’s called home for the last three years — a homeless shelter.Advocates of affordable housing say that the employed homeless are proof of the widening gap between wages and rents — which rose in the city even during the latest recession — and, given the shortage of subsidized housing, of just how difficult it is to escape the shelter system, even for people with jobs.

I stayed with (and compensated)until I saved enough money for a room and a hot plate.

Have you seen what a room will cost you in this day and time.Try 700.00 and up a month were you share the bathroom.

I see them at the liquor store or the crack house.

I wonder how many of the are homeless vets coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan,which they have Substance abuse, addiction, and other mental health disorders.

I bet you some of those homeowners on this black are just a step away from losing there homes.

posted by: Dwightstreeter on July 24, 2014  6:29pm

If the group is again forced to relocate, I suggest the Yale President’s recently renovated mansion next.

Apparently it is only used for VIP receptions and I’m sure that Yale University President Peter Salovey, using his emotional intelligence, would readily concede that the safety and comfort of his fellow citizens is far more important than the comfort of the 1/10 of 1%.

Or maybe Yale Corporation could donate a spare billion (in lieu of taxes) from its $22 billion endowment to renovate an existing building for permanent housing and use the interest income to sustain it.

posted by: absolutmakes on July 24, 2014  10:40pm

I do not sympathize with these tactics or this movement. Housing is not a right and it is unfair to put these demands on a city that already provides so many services to the homeless population. At best this should be a regional, state, or federal issue.

We should help those who cannot help themselves. We should not help those who do not want to help themselves.

posted by: LookOut on July 25, 2014  10:15am

this strikes to the heart of a major nationwide debate.  The founders of this nation posited that everyone has God given rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness which should not be infringed by tyrannical government.  Over time, the vision of these rights has certainly changed….are we really comfortable with housing, cartons of cigarettes, and big screen TVs for everyone - regardless of whether they are making positive contributions to society?

The question is very important in the short term (what to do about those who are homeless?) and the long term (What are the incentives to better one’s self?).

posted by: connecticutcontrarian on July 25, 2014  1:38pm

I wish I could put the phrase “stop pimping Black and Brown people” on a tshirt and bumper sticker.

Once again the Amistad Catholic Worker group shows that it’s driven more by ego and sensationalism than a genuine commitment to the communities it supposedly cares about. Why choose to “squat” in the middle of a community who is continuously overlooked and So marginalized in this city? Because it’s easy to do so when you know your tactics will go unchecked by those in power. Want to make a real statement? choose a lot in East Rock or Westville and see how long you’re able to stay there. Kudos to the neighbors who stood up for themselves. So called “advocates” who spend more time falsely speaking on behalf of a community rather than taking a step back and actually LISTENING to said community are more detrimental than those who are indifferent to their plight.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on July 25, 2014  5:42pm

posted by: connecticutcontrarian on July 25, 2014 1:38pm

I wish I could put the phrase “stop pimping Black and Brown people” on a tshirt and bumper sticker.

Who is pimping who.Read this.

Mayor Toni Harp spoke by phone Friday with nine of her counterparts, who agreed to prepare a joint plan to present the governor with possible small sites to house some of the children crossing the U.S. border.

The ten mayors have formed a task force to put together the list of sites to present to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Harp said after the conference call.

“We’re interested in participating” in helping to solve “a humanitarian crisis,” Harp told the Independent. “Ultimately cities are going to be places where these children live.”

Like they said Where then should we go.

posted by: Mark C on July 26, 2014  10:03am

The neighbors finally saw that the encampment was not an eyesore in their neighborhood.
It was clean, kept alcohol and drug free, people were transported to Amistad to use facilities.
The daily collection of trash created by the encampment was transported back to Rosette Street.
Neighbors took on cooking/sharing meals with the homeless.
When the encampment was shut down a neighbor of the encampment came to Rosette Street and fed people there.
The landlord with the complaint wondered why Mark Colville, Gregory Williams, and Flor (Rico) Jones chose to be arrested if they really weren’t homeless.
The fact is they were homeless and it is illegal to be.
If you go back to the lot as I did last night you will find it cleaner then we found it.
Show me proof of what the media states that people were inappropriate while there.
The encampment was a huge loss to people that felt unsafe and unloved.
Do they not have a right to live like human beings?
We have been housing homeless people at Amistad for the last twenty years, and will continuously to do so.
God commands us to Love they neighbor regardless of their status.

posted by: wendy1 on July 26, 2014  2:28pm

I commend Greg W. and Mark C. for their work and commitment.  What would Jesus do?  He would get arrested, too.

Life on the streets here is a living hell as described by one of the speakers at cityhall.  The big solution to house homeless at Columbus House across the street from potter’s field is pathetic.  I want to house many more homeless individuals along with a free med clinic and social work office in the middle of town.

All of us should have access to the heart of city life.  The non-profits other than Liberty Haven have so far shunted poor folks to the wasteland of a far away boulevard in barrack like conditions.  I urge those of you who are human to talk to homeless people about their lives.  Survival is the priority and they cant get organized for themselves.

Mark and Greg are trying to do the right thing.

posted by: connecticutcontrarian on July 26, 2014  4:18pm

The first line from Mark C’s post embodies the arrogance that defines much of my disdain for the tactics used by his group “The neighbors finally saw that the encampment was not an eyesore in their neighborhood”

Their neighborhood. It takes a great deal of hubris to assume that you know what’s best for a neighborhood and that you should impose your will until the blind/ignorant community members finally come around to seeing things your way. How about you keep the cameras away and actually sit down and LISTEN to what neighbors want/need rather than telling them what YOU want them to have.