The New Haven Debt Map: How can we reduce the burden now?

by Annie Harper, CMHC/PRCH Financial Health Project

The New Haven Debt Map is learning from New Haven residents about their debt burden and working to collectively develop local policy reforms to reduce that burden.

People are struggling with student loans, car loans and credit card debt. Many people are behind on rent and bills, or have unpaid taxes, fines, and tickets. Close to 50% of New Haven residents have delinquent debt; rates are much higher in neighborhoods of color than in white neighborhoods. People with debts in collections may have their wages, bank accounts or tax refunds attached. More than 3,000 New Haven households are behind on their UI bills. Many owe property taxes, parking tickets, or can’t afford registration. Their cars may be towed, with retrieval fees too high for some to recover their vehicles.

People also owe mortgage arrears, medical debt, online/TV retail installment loans, tax refund advances, online payday loans, rent-to-own stores, pawnshops, bank overdrafts, child support, IRS taxes, library fines, Medicaid/DOC liens, bail bonds, loans from friends and family, credit from neighbor-hood stores, loans from loan sharks……the list goes on.

The consequences of debt go beyond a person’s finances. People with debt and arrears are more than twice as likely than others to have mental and physical health problems.

We need to know more about how debt affects New Haven families. Is debt a problem? What types of debt burden people most? What can we do in the city to reduce the burden? Can we help people save to avoid going into debt in the first place, and help them repair and build their credit? What policy reforms could help, such as municipal rules around property taxes and parking tickets, or utility bills and disconnections? Could employers help workers avoid and better manage debt?

We need to hear from experts by lived experience when it comes to debt so that we fully understand the situation, and to work together to push for policy reforms that will make a difference. If you are interested in knowing more, please contact Annie Harper, at annie.harper@yale.edu or (203) 295-4143.
Annie Harper is Project Director of the Financial Health Project of CMHC/PRCH (CT Mental Health Center and Yale Program for Recovery and Community Health).

Walk Against Hunger Saturday May 18

Join the CT Food Bank at scenic Savin Rock Park in West Haven at 10 a.m. on Saturday, May 18, to rally in support of neighbors in need and get on the move toward a hunger-free Connecticut. Enjoy a two-mile walk route along the Savin Rock beach-front. We’ve got plenty of parking and fun activities to make the day special.

Many of our neighbors in cities and towns across Connecticut battle hunger every day. By participating in the Walk Against Hunger, you will bring attention to their challenges and raise funds to provide nutritious food to people in need.

More than 300,000 people in our service area are food-insecure; nearly 100,000 children struggle with hunger. Funds raised at the Walk Against Hunger support the vital work of the Connecticut Food Bank providing food to hungry adults and children in six Connecticut counties: Fairfield, Litchfield, Middlesex, New Haven, New London, and Windham. Last year, we distributed enough food to provide 20.3 million meals, or more than 55,000 meals every day to people in need.

No need to collect checks or cash – donations are made directly to you through your Walk page. Register today and build your team of hunger fighters!

If you have questions regarding the Walk Against Hunger, email walk@ctfoodbank.org.

City Homeless Demand Bill Of Rights, Thomas Breen, New Haven Independent

Thomas Breen, New Haven Independent

Verna spent five years sleeping on the streets after she lost her manufacturing job.

Now living in her own Fair Haven apartment, she’s still haunted by the constant stress, anxiety, and humiliation she felt whenever city police asked her to move from a bench or a sidewalk grate or a stretch of grass downtown where she had managed to fall asleep.

On Monday afternoon, Verna added er voice and her story to a broader call by local homelessness advocates seeking to codify a city “bill of rights” for New Haveners without a home.

Read the full article at http://www.nhindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/homeless_rights

My Homeless Diary I, II and III

by Wendy Hamilton, advocate for the homeless

I

It’s Saturday morning, and I’m sitting on my couch reading EVICTED by Matthew Desmond. An hour ago I had bought DD coffee at the train station and watched at least a dozen homeless men and women trying to sleep upright on the benches. They are not allowed to recline or unfold. I recognize some of them. The scene is heartbreaking.

Yesterday a skinny homeless teenager wearing only a cotton shirt and a dirty blanket walked through the station. I offered him money, but he refused.

Every day I meet new faces on the street and greet old ones. I pass out small amounts of money to a few knowing that at best it will buy some time in a warm place. I fantasize organizing a small group of these folks to sit with me every day in the mayor’s office (large waiting room) to shame the city into doing something. There are large empty buildings with heat including City Hall right in the center of New Haven.

The “shelters” are inadequate and awful, away from the city center. Yale Corporation and the city and the city hospital exclude the homeless and even though there are charities and outlets for food and clothing, the most important tool for survival, housing, is denied. We all lose our humanity as a result.

II

New Year’s Day — temp is 14F — I walk to the train station for coffee at 8 a.m. Amongst the homeless trying to rest is an elderly white man, scabs on his face, babbling and grimacing, wearing only a thin jacket and PAPER pants, no hat. I ask one of the station police to call an ambulance telling him I am a nurse, and he tells me one just dropped this man off. “He was discharged.” We looked at each other.

I then walked the mile to YNHH ER off York St. It was 9 a.m. and holiday-quiet. Two nurses stood by the reception desk, and I asked for the name of the head doctor of the ER. One of these women wore a vest that said Jessica, Emergency. She started to write down the useless number for “patient relations.” I said I wanted a name so I could write a letter of complaint. She refused and called the two hospital guards (private police) who grabbed me under the armpits and threw me out the front door. Two women patients near the entrance saw this. Luckily I landed on my feet. One cop, C. Larson, told me to get off hospital property.

Later that day I wrote a letter to Dr. Gail D’Onofrio, head medical doctor for the ER at YNHH. No reply so far.

I also found out via the internet that a Baltimore psycho-therapist named Imamu Baraka had a similar experience in his city. Homeless people are denied medical care and hospital admission. I am a witness.

III

Bad news: In January, at a community board meeting, I learned “MC,” Mark Cochran, had died before the holidays. You can read his story in the New Haven Independent at http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/lead_march_cochran. He was 55, a beer drinker and a chain smoker, small of stature, friendly, and a lifelong local. He succumbed to 20 years of homelessness, slogging through heat and cold until it killed him along with his habits.

Yale New Haven Hospital refused to admit him for more than two days. YNHH might have given him more time literally and figuratively. I told them he needed a long stay on a locked down detox ward before he could get housing of any kind. I did mention a heart problem and possible skin disease. I was shown the door. Two days later he was back on Chapel Street.

He was also failed by the local housing system which insists on rules, regulations, and endless delays before subsidized housing is granted or made available. It is slow torture. Even Kafka would be shocked by its cruel complexity.

Good news: I met a young homeless man who is going to Gateway Nursing School, and I offered to help. And Bea C. who is head of SWAN (Sex Workers Allies Network) has been traveling to other cities, networking, and has expanded that group, I found out. Most New Haven sex workers are homeless people.