As the cold sets in and the holidays approach, New Haven’s homeless and transient community prepares for a part of the year in which they are most vulnerable. Across the world, Hunger and Homeless Awareness month is observed in November to raise awareness about the problems that continue to be pervasive for the homeless community throughout the year. One of these issues--the criminalization of homelessness--persists as a significant challenge. Just this past week, the New Haven community itself began Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Month with a powerful campaign to end targeted and unfair treatment towards the homeless.
On November 1, over 100 individuals experiencing homelessness, community advocates, and Yale students rallied in the “March to End Homelessness: Housing Not Jails” led by the Connecticut Bail Fund. I was fortunate to be involved in the early planning of the march, learning about the work of the Connecticut Bail Fund through its Executive Director Brett Davidson, a Yale alum who recognized the unfair nature of systemic and institutionalized structures that inherently target the homeless.
During one of these meetings, Quentin Staggers, a homeless individual himself, shared his experiences living on the New Haven Green. I learned more from Quentin’s insight than many textbooks or classes could offer, understanding the somewhat complex nature of institutionalized resources and how the community can more effectively approach direct assistance. Quentin provided the “Porter Potty Situation” as just one instance, noting that it took him a significant amount of effort working with City Hall to obtain portable restrooms on the New Haven Green for the homeless and transient communities to utilize. Once this feat was achieved, they were soon gone. It only took two weeks before City Hall reclaimed them and the homeless were forced once more into a situation of finding places to wash in the morning and use a restroom.
It was Quentin’s emotion and frustration with his own battle to secure housing for the past few years--forced from one location to another--that made me recognize the danger of deindividuation and the criminalization of individuals who are incredible advocates and community members of New Haven. Quentin’s leadership at the November 1 march, along with many who have been ticketed or harassed for trying to find a place to sleep, was an incredible act of resilience. The march, which began at the intersection of Olive and Chapel Streets, was a powerful demonstration of solidarity amongst the Yale student body and New Haven community, ending in a community dinner at St. Thomas Moore.
Bread and pastries heaping on the tables, it was evident that local New Haven businesses and advocates were eager to support this mission in a notable start to Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Month. Quentin, who just secured housing four days before the march, offers promise to this mission and to many who are still fighting for just treatment and proper housing. Seeing homeless residents and Yale students converse in constructive conversations around the table, I am optimistic that we can continue these critical discussions.
With the March to End Homelessness a successful beginning to November, please consider donating your meal swipes in YHHAP’s Fall Fast. The YHHAP Fast is taking place on Friday, November 10 and all proceeds will support rapid re-housing programs in New Haven. We need Yale’s effort towards advancing this critical campaign and hope to see your support throughout November.
Lauren LaMonica, YHHAP Advocacy and Outreach