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50 shelter beds open in New Haven, as heat and rents rise

New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker (second from right) talks with Pastor Valerie Washington from Upon This Rock Ministries in a fifty bed shelter that opened in New Haven.
Eddy Martinez
/
Connecticut Public
New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker (second from right) talks with Pastor Valerie Washington from Upon This Rock Ministries in a fifty bed shelter that opened in New Haven.

New Haven officials opened 50 beds for people experiencing homelessness, just a few blocks away from a former “tent city” where police evicted unhoused people in March.

“We just don't have the number of beds that our community –and when I say our community, I'm saying our greater New Haven community – need and deserve,” Mayor Justin Elicker said.

He said the need outpaces shelter space.

“There are 537 individuals in the greater New Haven region that are experiencing homelessness,” Elicker said.

The mayor, city officials, and community and religious leaders spoke at a shelter owned by Columbus House, a city-based nonprofit on Friday, where they cited an affordable housing crisis as the main culprit behind rates of homelessness.

Elicker took time to criticize residents and people in nearby communities, who oppose affordable housing initiatives. The rows of twin sized beds belie the changing nature of homelessness in the city, according to one official.

Velma George, who is the city’s coordinator for the homeless, said she’s seen a change in the makeup of the population.

“We're seeing more families experiencing unsheltered homelessness than any other time that I've been in this field,” George said.

While the number of homeless individuals is a bit lower than what it was around the same time in 2022, the figures are complicated by another factor. According to figures provided by the Connecticut Coordinated Access Network, 54 families were homeless in 2022. The number is now at 90.

George noted the housing crisis is also a factor, saying landlords have refused to renew leases for some families and have jacked up rents by a few hundred dollars. Many homeless people, she said, work, but rent prices are now out of reach for many.

The average New Haven rent is $2,048, according to the real estate website RentCafe. The average hourly wage in the city is around $19.00 an hour according to ZipRecruiter. But according to the Living Wage Calculator by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a living wage for one adult with at least one child, is over $37.00 an hour.

Margaret Middleton is the CEO ofColumbus House, which owns the temporary emergency shelter. She said there are more households experiencing homelessness and 100 more people in cooling centers.

From left: Velma George, New haven’s Coordinator for Homelessness, Shaunette James Marquis, community services administrator, community outreach worker and Carmen Rodriguez, alder for the 6th ward.
Eddy Martinez
/
Connecticut Public
From left: Velma George, New haven’s Coordinator for Homelessness, Shaunette James Marquis, community services administrator, community outreach worker and Carmen Rodriguez, alder for the 6th ward.

“This is a 68% increase from the same time last year; 68% increase. And at Columbus house, we're entirely committed to serving this population of folks and helping make sure that we have a community in which everybody has a place to call home,” Middleton.

The temporary emergency shelter will be run by Upon this Rock Ministries, a non-denominational Christian ministry.

Individuals wishing to get a bed would first need to reach out to their local 211 help hotline for a referral. The beds are available from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. until the end of October.

One alder, Carmen Rodriguez who represents the 6th Ward, implored people to understand the city and community members are trying to address the problem.

“Please understand that they said 50 beds to begin with. But their mission is not to just do [these] 50 beds. So let's applaud the mission that is taking place today,” Rodriguez said.

Yet Elicker said one thing that could put a serious dent in the problem, is something a lot of residents have opposed.

“There is not an interest in supporting more housing, more affordable housing, more deeply affordable housing. And I would ask people to ask themselves, ‘what kind of person are you?’” Elicker said.

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