Extension Shortlived: Uncertainty Still Awaits Overflow Occupants

Jade Jones doesn’t get around all that easily.

When we meet up, he’s sitting outside of the overflow shelter on Howard Avenue a little after 5 p.m. in what looks like a makeshift wheelchair. He’s already secured one of the shelter’s 75 spots but he and some of the other residents are outside enjoying what’s left of a 70 degree day.

Jones, who is holding his right arm as if it’s in a sling, reaches down with his left to rub at his knee.

“I have no cartilage,” Jones says.

Everyone at the overflow-or any homeless shelter for that matter-has a story, and Jones’ is pretty much summed up in that statement. He has osteoarthritis, a condition characterized by the degeneration of cartilage that cushions the bones. That means that for him, there is nothing between them when they rub together so he is often in pain. The former landscaping worker has been homeless for three years, unable to work and still waiting on disability benefits.

“Last job I had I quit because I couldn’t go up and down the stairs,” he says.

In another week he will have another problem: where to go when the overflow shelter closes for the season? A $10,000 redirection of city funds by Mayor Toni Harp bought him a little extra time-it would have closed yesterday-but not much.

“I’ll probably go to Grand Avenue,” Jones says, referring to the 75-bed shelter in Fair Haven.

Kenneth Driffer, a former Columbus House employee who now works as an independent outreach worker for the homeless throughout New Haven, overhears us as he’s walking over.

“You better fill out that application now,” Driffer tells him. “In a week everyone will be there trying to get a spot.”

And for those who don’t?

“I have some ideas, but I don’t have any solid options of where to go,” says one overflow occupant, who asked to just be referred to as “Anonymous.” “I might be able to find a couch to crash on, but I wouldn’t say I have a place to go.”

The day before a group of activists from the Amistad Catholic Worker held a press conference outside of City Hall and then marched into the mayor’s office asking Harp about finding long-term solutions. In the dialogue that resulted, Harp implied that what will be done is not yet clear, although she stated that the city could not afford to use any more funds and that the effort would likely have to come from the activist and faith-based community-possibly through opening churches as shelter at night as was done by some during the winter.

The 61-year old former commercial industrial roofer has been working to find a “long-term” solution to his problem since he lost valuable equipment in an eviction last August, and if you take it from him, you have to go much deeper than just the issue of shelter.

“People have to be able to at least maintain,” he says. “[That means] clean clothes. People need transportation.”

That’s to get and hold down jobs, which by the way, Anonymous has-he just hasn’t been able to afford rent working minimum wage for temporary periods.

Even at $8.70-up from $8.25 as of January this year-Connecticut’s minimum wage affords an individual a fair market rate apartment only if they work more than 100 hours per week, every week of the year, according to a 2014 report from the Washington D.C.-based National Low Income Housing Coalition. By 2017 the minimum wage will be $10.10, but even if that were to happen today, part of the problem is finding work in a city where the unemployment is a Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 10.3-compared to the state’s 7.4-or in the case of Anonymous, finding steady employment.

“If I get a two to three week run, and I go and get a place, what am I gonna do when that run ends?” he says. “If you’re not making enough money to be able to afford a monthly rent and know that that’s going to be consistent, you don’t have a long term solution.”

After four years being homeless, one individual, who asked to be referred to only as “Homeless Advocate”, is getting closer to his long term solution. He just found a full-time job and a place to stay, so when the overflow closes he will land on his feet, but he has been in the situation those that surround him are facing more times than he would like to remember since his Laundromat business in Bridgeport went bankrupt and his house was foreclosed on.

Before landing a full-time job at a web design firm for small businesses, he was struggling to get by as a salesman, showing up to meet clients with a suitcase with all of his belongings slung over his shoulder.

“You can’t show up carrying a suitcase,” he says. “You’re not making the sale that way.”

As we’re talking his cell phone rings. He walks away for about five minutes to take the call and then comes back over.

“That was my wife,” Homeless Advocate tells me. “She has no idea. It’s a long distance relationship.”

His wife lives in Jamaica, so he’s been able to keep his situation a secret from her.

“She’s been wanting to come here,” he says. “But I haven’t been able to let that happen.”

And she is not the only one clueless to his predicament.

“I couldn’t even let my family know,” Homeless Advocate says. “I’ve owned houses most of my adult life. I was a landlord, so being homeless was a shock to me.”

Next week he will move into a room he is renting and begin saving money. He hopes to own a house again in two years, but for now, he is grateful to know that he has a roof waiting for him when the overflow closes.

“It shouldn’t be seasonal,” he says of the overflow shelter. “There are too many people here to find a place in Grand Avenue. A week from now, there are going to be a lot of people stressed.”

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