Neighborhood opposition to a shelter for homeless young adults is driving its organizers to look beyond Grand Avenue.
That news emerged at the most recent regular meeting of the Fair Haven Community Management Team. where the project’s co-founder, Sam Greenberg, and two of the Yale student organizers, Esther Ritchin and Ariela Schear, made their pitch before 30 attendees at the Blatchley Avenue police substation. The program is called Y2Y; the plan is to launch a student-run shelter for young adults.
Organizers told neighbors at the meeting this past Thursday night that they still believe the proposed overnight shelter for people 18 to 24 would be best located at their sponsoring partner, Youth Continuum’s, Grand Avenue site. But they are looking for other options as well. The Grand Avenue idea sparked a stormy public meeting on May 24 and a petition drive fueled by Wooster Square opponents. (Read about that here.)
The idea for the overnight shelter is modeled off Y2Y Harvard Square, a student-run shelter in the heart of Cambridge, Mass. There, young adults receive a wide range of services during their monthlong stays, including medical check-ups and legal help, financial literacy workshops and résumé writing sessions, yoga workouts and cooking classes.
Working closely with 18 Yale students, the team has met with over 50 organizations and assembled a 13-member advisory board. That board includes Community Foundation for Greater New Haven’s Lee Cruz, Columbus House’s Alison Cunningham, Center Church on the Green’s Rev. Kevin Ewing, Yale Law School’s Emily Bazelon, and Connecticut Coalition for the Homeless’s Mimi Haley.
Y2Y co-founder Greenberg moved to New Haven to implement a similar design here. An intensive training—largely at Youth Continuum sites around the city—will begin in the fall for the Yale student volunteers, he said.
Greenberg and his young Yale colleagues were received warmly by Fair Haven management team members Thursday. But no possible alternate location was specifically under discussion in the immediate area.
Greenberg came to the Fair Haven meeting to gather general feedback.
Management team Co-Chair David Steinhardt wanted clarification: “Are you [definitely] going into Grand Avenue?”
“We’re looking for other sites as well, given the response,” Greenberg said. “This is early in our process. We’re a year from starting, and we’ll be a thoughtful neighbor.”
The discussion that ensued was a far cry from the passionate discussion heard in Wooster Square last week where neighbors argued that a high concentration of social service organizations already exists in the neighborhood.
Diane Ecton, Fair Haven team co-chair, argued that since 924 Grand Ave. is already the site of a youth day program, and well known to the clients, adding the evening shelter program at the same location seems “opportune.”
Greenberg distributed a hand-out to attendees with an overview of the program that concedes the Grand Avenue site is preferred by clients for the reasons Ecton pointed out but also because it is close to downtown. The young people in need of shelter are often also working or going to school.
Would locating a site farther east on Grand Avenue constitute a plus or a minus?
“We are looking at a number of alternative locations. We want to do what is the safest for youth while also minimizing the impact on a neighborhood.”
Fair Havener Sally Esposito inquired if the students staffing an overnight shelter would have supervision. Greenberg’s answer: There will always be two full-time Youth Continuum professional staff on hand to supervise volunteers.
Police Commissioner Kevin Diaz asked if the shelter is looking for additional services to provide for the young people who will mostly be on the premisesafter 5 p.m. The answer was an emphatic yes.
Area activist and Fair Haven School teacher David Weinreb enthusiastically endorsed the idea. He said he would welcome Y2Y in the immediate neighborhood.
“Youths’ needs are great, especially LGBT,” he said. “The more services we can provide the better. I’ve visited Y2Y [in Cambridge], and they’re incredible.”
He asked Greenberg if the group needs or is requesting a formal letter of support from the management team/
“Not yet,” Greenberg replied, “until we locate a site.”
Welcome, But Communicate Better!
In a separate matter before the management team, attendees acknowledged as a fait accompli that the state Department of Correction Parole Division moving its 22 staffers from the structurally troubled building they currently rent at 50 Fitch St. to the low-slung white tiled building, kitty-corner from Farnam Court development, on Grand at Hamilton Street.
The move, which is as of right,was recently approved by the City Plan Department. It is scheduled to take place later this year. Fair Haven District Manager Lt. David Zanneli invited the state Department of Corrections Parole Division Deputy Director Eric Ellison and Parole Manager Marv Anderson to Thursday night’s meeting for an information-sharing session.
Wooster Square and Fair Haven Alders Aaron Greenberg and Ernie Santiago both bemoaned the lack of communication from the state, at least, to the Board of Alders, about the move.
“This is not the best use of that building, although your service is vital,” Greenberg said. “It’s a use allowed by right, so there isn’t much of a public process.”
Anderson assured residents that the parole officers keep a low profile and drive vehicles that do not look like police cars.
Anstress Farwell also lamented the use of the building, especially in such proximity to the Farnam Court public-housing development, the site of many police calls. She said that this use in that location does not comport with the building of a more natural community.
Fair Haveners David Weinreb, Maryann Moran, and Alder Kenneth Reveiz expressed strong support.
“What you’re doing is important,” Weinreb said. “I’m happy there are more services. As a Fair Havener, I’m proud.”
“Let’s face the reality of who’s living in our neighborhood,” said Moran. She has worked for years with kids on building community gardens and in tutoring programs. “I support what the parole office is doing. People need a second chance.”