A week after New Haven’s removal of a homeless camp set up by the Amistad Catholic Worker, community activists sat down with Mayor Toni Harp-something they were not able to do the day of the eviction, when the group came to city hall-to discuss long term solutions, but the two sides have their share of differences to overcome first.
The Catholic Worker wants the city to allow the homeless to camp on city property without police harassment, reopen the overflow shelter that saw its seasonal closing two weeks ago, and establish measures to prevent the loss of low income housing in future development projects, according to a list that was presented to Harp at the start of Thursday afternoon’s meeting.
“We’re at the end of our fiscal year,” Harp told the group. “We don’t have the funds. I wish we that we can do more but we don’t have the resources.”
Harp found $10,000 to put toward keeping the overflow open an additional week, but Amistad turned a vacant lot at 211 Rosette Street into what they dubbed a homeless “safe haven” in response the absence of a long-term solution in the wake of Howard Avenue facility closing.
When Rico Jones’ 90 days at Grand Avenues Emmanuel Baptist shelter expired, he came to the spot at Rosette Street because he had heard it was a place to stay, but the camp had just been cleared.
“I was going to stay there Friday night because the shelter has a 90 day policy-90 days in, 90 days out,” Jones said during the meeting. “For some people, getting through that 90 days is having another shelter.”
For now, he’s taking those 90 days day-by-day. While personnel within Harp’s office made a call to set him up with an Emmanuel Baptist shelter bed last Thursday and Friday, that Saturday night he slept on a couch at the Amistad Catholic Worker House, also on Rosette Street.
If the city does not have the funds to reopen the overflow or create other shelter space, officials should not be impeding community efforts to handle it, said Mark Colville from Amistad.
“The reality is, we’re living in a city where it’s illegal to be homeless,” Colville said. “A few months ago, the question of some of our friends was, ‘where then, shall we go?’ Last week, we came up with an answer.”
The problem with Amistad’s answer is that it presents both “public health” and liability issues, said Michael Harris, a legislative assistant/policy analyst in Harp’s office.
But so does homelessness itself, the activists countered.
“It’s also not right, from a public health perspective, for people to be sleeping under dumpsters,” said Greg Williams from Amistad.
But the liability issue is unavoidable, Harris said.
“While we recognize that people helping each other is ideal compared to sleeping behind dumpsters, if anything were to happen-if someone were to get assaulted, raped-the legal precedent is the city would be completely liable,” he said.
For now, the Harp’s team is working specifically to work out a remedy for Jones’ situation, as well as find an Emmanuel Baptist spot for Nick, who was still in the middle of his 90 days when he was told he could not come back after he tried to enter a sober house program and was denied. Harp also said that her administration will pursue the addition of more beds at Emmanuel Baptist. Since last week, calls from the administration have increased the number of spots from 75 to 90, according to Harp.
Both Harp and Columbus House Executive Director Allison Cunningham urged the activists and those struggling with homelessness to become involved in United Way’s ongoing initiative to provide rapid re-housing in a 100 day period.
“If we can get more people out of the shelters and into housing, that makes more beds for a lot of people,” Harp said.