NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) – Homelessness is a growing concern across the country, including right here in Connecticut. Advocates are pushing for better solutions, especially during the winter.
A federal survey finds the unhoused population in Connecticut fell between 2015 and 2021 but jumped 13% this year. Advocates in New Haven say the situation is getting worse, calling it a crisis.
“It doesn’t mean we’re bad people, it doesn’t mean we’re on drugs, it doesn’t mean anything like that,” said Mark, a New Haven homeless man. “It’s just things happen.”
Mark is 55 years old and has been unhoused since 2007.
“Lost hope, lost a lot of hope, to be honest with you,” Mark said.
A glimmer of hope was Mark Colville with the Catholic Worker Movement, which he says is focused on showing mercy. Colville has spent decades advocating for the unhoused in New Haven and now allows people like Mark to live in his backyard.
“The emergency is tonight,” Colville said. “It’s not in the next voting cycle, it’s not after the next budgetary meeting. The emergency is tonight.”
He finds people living in this so-called “tent city” off Ella T. Grasso Boulevard. The unhouse population understands there are shelters, but some refuse to go.
“Many shelters are just like prisons with nicer guards and a few less locked doors,” Colville said.
The group is hoping to work with the city to improve the quality of life.
“Get the same result every time,” Mark said. “At the end, it’s, ‘oh, there’s nothing we can do for you, I’m sorry.’”
New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker says safety is a concern in these winter months, but there must be a regional approach.
“We cannot do this work alone,” Elicker said. “New Haven bends over backward to help support individuals that are really struggling, and we need some movement by other towns and also the state.”
Elicker points out New Haven dedicated $1.4 million from its general fund to address homelessness, opened four warming centers and works with multiple shelters in the area.
As for the tent city, Elicker says though the site is not sanctioned, it is an alternative for housing, but since it’s on public land, he can’t promise they won’t respond if there are issues.