It’s around 5:30 p.m. on Friday and about 20 people-some who are homeless, as well as members of the Amistad Catholic Worker, Unidad Latina en Accion, (ULA) the ANSWER Coalition, and other local activist groups-have crowded Mayor Toni Harp’s office at New Haven City Hall.
Harp had a similar scene play out three weeks ago, when, following an announcement that the overflow shelter on Howard Avenue would remain open for one week due to a $10,000 redirection of city funds, a group led by Amistad had a press conference style dialogue with her regarding a long term solution.
It is a little over a week after the overflow closed, and Harp did not issue an extension for a Catholic Worker dubbed “safe space” that was carved out of a vacant lot-city property that is rented to the New Haven Land Trust-on Rosette Street the previous morning.
In fact, the city has followed through with its order for the camp to be dismantled with a swift eviction. The tents were removed earlier that afternoon and two members of Amistad Catholic Worker-Greg Williams and Mark Colville-were arrested for trespassing when they refused to vacate the space, according to Victor Bolden, who head’s the city’s Office of the Corporation Counsel-the legal advisory branch for all municipal departments.
“City officials went out there with outreach workers to work with them [the homeless occupants of the camp] and help them find a place to stay,” Bolden told the group, who demanded that Williams and Colville be released. “When we got there, there were not homeless people there, but two individuals who were not homeless.”
According to Luz Colville, Mark Colville’s wife, the two suggested that the police and outreach workers return when the homeless occupants were there.
“Mark and Greg explained that they weren’t there now,” Luz said outside Harp’s office. “When they come back, you can talk to them because we can’t speak for them.”
A large part of the reason for the group’s presence at city hall today is so that Rico Jones, who has been homeless for three months, can speak for himself. He was expecting to speak with Harp, but the group has just been told that she has left for the day. While pushing for discussion regarding long term solutions to homelessness has been at the focal point of the Amistad campaign, Jones has a situation that, for now anyway, might require a short term fix-his 90 days at the Emmanuel Baptist shelter on Grand Avenue have just run out, and he came to the lot on Rosette Street expecting what he was told would be a safe haven.
“What am I going to do tomorrow?” Jones asks Michael Harris, a legislative assistant in Harp’s policy office. “The next day? I can’t go to work smelling like something you wouldn’t want.”
For now, the city is going to try and set him up with a spot back at Emmanuel Baptist-they sent vans to transport people there earlier-Harris says, but Jones is not optimistic about his chances of getting a bed.
“What time is it?” he asks. “Five-thirty? Emmanuel Baptist is packed.”
While spots were available, Jones was told that the shelter could not guarantee that he would get one. Following the meeting, he left city hall with Luz to find out.
“This is a problem people face on a daily basis,” says Joe Foran, a member of ULA.
Harp’s office understands that, and city officials are working on developing long term remedies, starting with its partnership with United Way in an initiative to place more than 100 individuals in permanent housing in 100 days, Harris says.
“We have a process that we want you to be a part of,” Harris tells the group. “We want to find rapid rehousing, but we can’t have an encampment on city land.”
Williams had said the day before that while the goal of the encampment was to provide a safe space for the homeless following the closing of the overflow, the group also wanted to make a point-one that was reiterated by Luz.
“It wasn’t about the encampment being a permanent solution,” she said. “But raising awareness and making sure that the homeless are not invisible.”