by Mark Colville, Amistad Catholic Worker
I reach out today with an urgent call to come together as advocates, caregivers, organizers, activists and allies, in response to the ongoing unmet needs of some of the most at-risk people in the New Haven community. As the coronavirus pandemic has unfolded, many concerned people in the area have intensified our work with people experiencing homelessness, and from that perspective, we’ve seen the city and some of its institutions take bold and proactive steps. At the same time, there is a growing fear that those efforts are falling short in terms of providing safe spaces for significant numbers of people who still lack the wherewithal to follow the statewide directive to shelter in place.
The latest initiative has been to move all of the people who were using the city’s homeless shelters into hotel rooms, a move that was completed within the past three weeks. Thanks to a concerted raising of voices, we have now seen the city commit to expanding that initiative to include all individuals who identify as experiencing homelessness, regardless of whether or not they typically use the shelter system. This is a very positive development, and many of us have been working hard to get those folks signed up for the rooms as they’re made available.
The problem we face now is that the ”shelter model” of service delivery is simply being transposed onto these hotels. This includes supervision, security measures, invasions of privacy and disciplinary regimens which are in fact the reason why so many people refuse to stay in shelters in the first place. Regardless of how anyone feels about such refusals, this project of moving everyone from the street into hotel rooms will not be sufficient, at least in its current form, to accommodate everyone- particularly, for example, those who are mentally ill and/or active drug users.
In response, the Amistad Catholic Worker is joining an effort already underway to erect a tent city, in an as-yet undetermined open space somewhere relatively close to the city center. This is being organized collectively and with a fair degree of urgency. It will integrate the requirements of social distancing and sheltering in place, but the rules and regulations will be developed and agreed upon by those dwelling in that space. Thus the responsibility for its operation in a safe and sanitary way, maintaining the peace and respecting the privacy of its residents, will also be assumed collectively.
We are now looking for camping supplies, especially tents, sleeping bags, warm blankets and tarps. If you can donate any of these or other items, please contact me: (203) 645-5417 (call or text); [email protected]. For anyone interested in taking an active role in getting the project off the ground, I’m happy to discuss that as well.
Stay safe everyone. Gratefully,