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'Tent City' residents in New Haven told to leave, some refuse

The city issued an eviction order for the residents last week, they were supposed to pack up and leave by 1 p.m. Wednesday.

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Last Friday, the city of New Haven issued an eviction order for a group of people living in a homeless encampment known as "Tent City" along the West River, off of Ella T Grasso Blvd. That eviction notice said residents needed to pack their things up and leave by 1 p.m. on Wednesday. 

While some did abide by it, others chose to stay.

"It has its ups and downs, but we've really made it a family and a community here," said Suki Godek, who had been living at the encampment since July.

Godek said she and her husband are "down on their luck" after they lost their jobs as dairy farmers when their employer closed their business during the pandemic. They struggled to find affordable housing in Connecticut and ended up living in Tent City. They did not want to stay in a homeless shelter.

"All we have is each other. And I don't want to leave my husband. If we were to stay in a shelter, we would be separated," Godek said.

Godek and her neighbors were given an eviction notice on Friday, the 10th. It was their second notice coming from the city of New Haven in a matter of weeks.

"We want to make sure that we can support people as much as possible. At the same time, we've got to make sure that people are safe," said New Haven Mayor, Justin Elicker.

Elicker said they've been monitoring Tent City for years. However, last month, they took action after he said they found they had built a new shower on site with water running into the river, new permanent structures, human waste, trash, fuel, and more.

"We need to keep people safe. And we've given people an opportunity to fix those problems, and ultimately they haven't done so, and so we've made a decision to clear the encampment," Elicker said.

City leaders stopped by Tent City all day on Wednesday, connecting people with a temporary housing option at Columbus House and connecting them to other services through 211.

Some people accepted the help, and have since left the encampment. A few, including Godek and her husband, brought their things to the Amistad Catholic Worker, which has what it calls a “human rights zone” where people can set up their tents in the backyard. 

"What we’re doing now in the backyard is sort of combining this resistance to the criminalization of homelessness, with actual hands-on hospitality with people who really need it," said Mark Coville, who lives there.

Others have chosen to stay overnight again. Several supporters chose to join them overnight despite the looming eviction. 

"To add to the numbers and just stand with them. To at least be witness to it even if we all get dragged off," said Paul Boudreau, tenant organizer for SEIU 1199. 

The park closed at sunset and New Haven Police responded to clear the parking lot, but not the encampment. 

"We would love if they would allow us to stay here, we put a lot of work into the camp," Godek said. 

Activists joined the residents of Tent City on Wednesday, bringing food and offering support. At one point, they made their way over to City Hall to ask the city to let them stay.

The city has continued to work with the residents, hoping to find them a better housing option. At some point, however, they will have to take the tents down and find another place to stay.

"Cleanup process is to be determined, but our goal is to give folks enough time to secure their things and to get connected to services," said Shaunette James, a Community Outreach Worker for New Haven.

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James said they do have some housing options throughout the city right now, but certainly not enough to meet the overall demand. However, that's not just a New Haven problem, though Mayor Elicker said they're doing whatever they can to solve it and investing $1.4 million to combat homelessness. 

"But we can't do this alone. This is a statewide problem. And our vacancy rate in the state is at its lowest level ever. We need to see a statewide solution, including real action by some of our suburban counterparts to develop more, to open up more affordable housing so that we have more opportunities for residents of all income levels to actually have a home," Elicker said.

"To get them to be able to own a pair of keys that they can put in a door, turn it, and go inside. That's my goal," James said. 

Julia LeBlanc is a reporter at FOX61 News. She can be reached at jleblanc@fox61.com Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Gaby Molina is a reporter and anchor at FOX61 News. She can be reached at mmolina@fox61.com. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.


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