Mike considers himself fortunate-he just became one of this year’s 940 people to receive rent assistance from the state’s Shelter Plus Care Program, but he spent 10 years homeless first.
“I know what it’s like to wake up and know you have no place to stay,” Mike says outside City Hall at a press conference held by the Amistad Catholic Worker this morning. “You can’t put your life together in the streets.”
Those who were staying at the overflow shelter on Howard Avenue have probably been able to relate-the facility would have closed this morning had it not been for an eleventh hour reallocation of funds-around $10,000, according to Laurence Grotheer, the Director of Communications for the Office of the Mayor-by Mayor Toni Harp to keep it open for another week.
“That’s a good thing,” says Amistad Catholic Worker community activist Greg Williams at the press conference. “But one more week is not enough.”
“It’s still an eviction notice,” adds Mark Colville, who runs the Catholic Worker House on Rosette Street.
“It’s just deferred,” Williams says.
Apparently, that memo was missed-this morning shelter residents were evicted in what Harp says was a miscommunication that her office plans to correct.
Chrissy, who is exactly where Mike was until only recently, holds up a sign that reads “where then, shall we go?”
“I’ve been out here for seven months,” she says during the press conference. “We need long term shelter.”
And that’s what the group-which had planned to visit Harp’s office before the decision to extend overflow shelter operations was made-is here to speak with the mayor about. At the rally, activists called for unity between the “homeless and housed”-a message that resonated especially with those who have been on both sides of that fence.
“I was gifted and given a home,” Mike says. “I’m here to stand by my friends.”
The group of about 20 activists have crowded into Harp’s office. They’re greeted by Grotheer, who explains that the mayor has a busy schedule of meetings.
“We have an emergency,” Williams tells him. “We have people being evicted from the last place they can live.”
“The mayor worked to find funding to keep it open for a week, so I think the emergency is less,” Grotheer says.
“With respect, homelessness itself is the emergency,” Williams responds.
Within ten minutes after Grotheer leaves the room, Harp is in front of the TV cameras in a dialogue with members of the group.
The city will not be able to keep the overflow open beyond the week extension, Harp tells them. She is, however, aiming to establish avenues for long term solutions, but she’s asking the activist and faith-based community for help.
“We’ll have to find resources other than the city’s,” Harps says. “I can’t ask the people of New Haven to go into the red.”
What exactly, will be done is unclear at this time, but Harp pointed out that some churches stayed open on nights this past winter to provide sanctuary from the elements.
“Some of them have done that, and I’m asking them to do that again,” she says.
Today, the discussion is about long term solutions for those currently homeless, but Colville, Williams, and their fellow activists are looking beyond that even. Amongst the objectives of the Hill to Downtown redevelopment project-the subject of an ongoing public hearing of which a date for a second session has not yet been set-is to demolish the 300 section 8 units at the Church Street South complex. According to a presentation given at the first hearing, 750 would take their place, but only 150 would be classified as affordable.
“We’re probably set to lose several hundred housing units, which will create more homelessness,” Colville says.
That hearing session was held months ago, and since then talks have taken place between Amistad and members of the Board of Aldermen’s joint Legislative and Redevelopment Committee. Today, Harp painted a different picture-the number of affordable housing units built will equal the amount lost in the redevelopment process, she says.
“We won’t be displacing people out of the city,” Harp says. “[But] we can’t guarantee it [the new units] will be in the same places.”