It’s around 9 a.m. and Amistad Catholic Worker has just finished serving its daily community breakfast in its cramped kitchen at 203 Rosette Street.
The table is cleared as a Channel 3 News reporter and a cameraman enter. Hanging on the wall behind a panel composed of Amistad members Mark Colville, Greg Williams, and Nick-a homeless community member-is a chalk board with a short list of priorities. They include the changing of Emmanuel Baptist Shelter’s 90 days in, 90 days out policy, an increase in the number of beds at the facility, and improvements to the overall living conditions-residents have complained of everything from bed bugs to deteriorating bathrooms-but the group has called the press conference primarily for the purpose of making an announcement.
A couple of hours later, Lawrence Grotheer, Mayor Toni Harp’s Director of Communications, is saying in a phone conversation that certain requests-more beds during the summer months and changing the 90 day policy-are not feasible due to a combination of budget constraints and the framework of the city’s contract with the private shelter. He pauses for a second and another voice is heard speaking to him.
“They’re taking over another lot,” the person tells him.
Back at the Amistad press conference, Williams had already explained.
“Because of this situation of continuing crisis, we are forced to continue our efforts of nonviolent direct action,” Williams told reporters. “We will continue to take city properties in order to offer hospitality to people who are low income until the criminalization of homeless people stops.”
The fence to the vacant city lot at 211 Rosette Street still has a lock and chain around it.
The sign displaying a phone number for those looking for homeless assistance is still there almost a month after the space served as a short-lived Amistad Catholic Worker dubbed “safe haven” for those without a place to stay in the aftermath of the Columbus House overflow shelter’s seasonal closing.
And close to a month later, individuals like Nick-who is disabled, struggling for long term employment, and homeless-are searching for a long term solution to a problem that has them constantly thinking in the short term as they scramble to find a roof, or even a safe spot outdoors, on a nightly basis.
“If someone is homeless and doesn’t have a shelter bed, there is no place that is legal for them to sleep,” Colville said during the press conference.
A week after the city made it clear with a swift eviction that Amistad’s homeless camp-three tents that were pitched in the wake of a massive trash and debris clean up-is not legal, Nick, along with activists from the group, sat down with Mayor Toni Harp to discuss shelter beds, amongst other related issues.
During the meeting, Harp expressed intentions to find spots for homeless individuals who had run past their allotted 90 days at the shelter. She said that the city had increased the number of beds from 75 to 90.
“That lasted for about a week,” Nick said, from the kitchen table at the Catholic Worker House this morning. “Then we’re back at 75 beds again.”
For Nick, it didn’t even last that long. The group met with Harp on a Thursday, which got him into the shelter that night and Friday, but he said that by Saturday he wasn’t allowed back.
“[That] Saturday, the [New Haven] Health Department and Toni Harp’s office were closed,” Nick said. “So they threw me right back out. I had to stay on the streets Saturday and Sunday.”
The number of people that can stay at Emmanuel Baptist on a given night caps at 75 during the warmer months, and is bumped back up to 90 during the winter, Grotheer said.
But what homeless individuals and activists want to know is, where does that leave those without a shelter spot, and nowhere else to go?
“We’ve been asking this question for six months in regard to low income and homeless in our city,” Colville said. “We’re here today because we still don’t have that answer.”
So they’re making one, or, at the very least, reposing the question until one emerges, hence, the impending attempt to take vacant space-again.
But this time, they’re throwing a curve ball-Catholic Worker is not disclosing the location of its next safe haven. On July 24-the day set for the action-the group will lead a march. Where then, will they go? If you ask them, that’s been the issue all along.
“It was asserting the right of people to take shelter,” Colville said of the first encampment. “It’s a human right, and when that right is not provided, people have a right to take refuge together.”