By RUSS O’SHEA
On Friday morning, March 24, there was a rally in solidarity with Mark Colville, a well-known local activist, who founded the Amistad Catholic Worker house. At the Amistad House, Mark and his partner Luz provide shelter for unhoused members of the community. Mark was arrested on charges of “trespassing” for refusing to leave following the unjust eviction of an unhoused tent city community.
Over 60 people attended the 9 a.m. rally, which was organized on short notice. It took place before a hearing in New Haven and featured speakers from the Unhoused Activist Community Team, CT Tenants’ Union, and Unidad Latina en Acción. Mark’s next court hearing is scheduled for April 13.
Organizers of the rally raised the following demands:
1) Stop evictions of unhoused people from public land.
2) Stop throwing away unhoused people’s belongings.
3) Install permanent public bathrooms and showers to serve the homeless community.
4) Offer people storage sites for their belongings if they choose to stay in shelter beds.
The tent city community was evicted and bulldozed on the morning of March 16. The encampment had been established at the start of the pandemic, and the eviction of community members at this time seemed arbitrary; but, of course, it suited the needs of the local government and the administration of the surrounding Yale campus. The first eviction warning was brought against tent city residents for building a shower and for other citations of cleanliness and safety. The community then worked together to meet all the criteria laid out by the city. They expected the city to hold up their end of the deal by not evicting them—but this wasn’t honored. A week after the initial eviction notice, the city issued a second notice and followed through with its threat.
Bulldozing of the tent city is estimated to have cost the city of New Haven about $50,000 between the mobilization of police forces, city workers, and machine operators. Activists have repeatedly pointed out that there are many other ways that this money could have been better spent than destroying the living space of unhoused people.
The eviction has had serious consequences. Community organizers said in a statement, “Many of the Tent City residents are themselves survivors of unjust evictions, predatory rent raises, and disabling working and housing conditions. An assault on a community that is recovering from these violations is unwarranted and unnecessary. Tent City residents are now at higher risk of violent interactions with law enforcement, health emergencies in the cold, and death—as in the case of our neighbor Victor Vivar, who passed away last month after the City destroyed his belongings in a similar eviction raid and forced him to relocate to a more dangerous location.”
The larger context of all this is that the city of New Haven is a hot spot of gentrification, which is rapidly accelerating due to both the Yale administration and greedy real estate developers. A few huge slumlords own large sections of the city and continue to buy up properties unchecked. These companies—Mandy Management, Ocean Management, and Pike International—are now the target of a robust tenant organizing drive in Connecticut.
Less than a week after bulldozing the tent city, Mayor Justin Elicker broke ground at the site of new luxury apartments at 310 State Street, currently known as The State House. The destruction of the State House in favor of luxury apartments destroys a space where local left and progressive-minded folks gathered to enjoy drag performances, concerts, and movie screenings.
The new luxury apartments will feature less than 80 units built on four stories, only six of which are considered to be “affordable.” There are no height restrictions on the zoning and the site sits across from a 32-story building. New Haven needs free quality housing for its most vulnerable population, not luxury apartments.
Workers’ Voice stands in solidarity with all unhoused people seeking justice against a predatory capitalist system that forces them onto the streets. We call on the city of New Haven to drop the charges against Mark Colville and to support the demands of organizers. We urge readers to sign the petition and learn more about this fight by following this link, https://linktr.ee/uactnhv. To donate to Amistad House, see https://amistadcw.wordpress.com/donate-2/