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    Sunday, April 14, 2024

    New Haven moves in on 'Tent City' to clear encampment

    NEW HAVEN — The city moved in on the “Tent City” encampment along the West River off Ella T. Grasso Boulevard at 7 a.m. Thursday, less than a day after its original deadline of 1 p.m. Wednesday. Dozens of police officers stood by while homeless services workers convinced three of the four people remaining to leave.

    A fourth person, activist Mark Colville of the Amistad Catholic Worker House, was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct after he refused to leave shortly after authorities arrived, Mayor Justin Elicker confirmed. This was the second time this month the city had issued an eviction notice to residents of the encampment.

    Colville, who owns a home nearby on Rosette Street in the Hill section and offered to let some of the unhoused former Tent City residents live in his backyard, pitched two tents at Tent City Wednesday. He said that forcing residents out of the encampment was illegal and he would not leave willingly.

    He was gone by the time reporters arrived at about 8 a.m. Earlier, Colville texted a New Haven Register/Hearst Connecticut Media reporter — including a video — at 7:35 a.m. to say the city had arrived on-site.

    City spokesman Lenny Speiller said Colville was carried out on a stretcher-like piece of equipment. Colville later was released, said Billy Bromage, an activist for unhoused people who is a member of U-ACT — the Unhoused Activists Community Team — about 9:30 a.m.

    Colville said about 11 a.m. that he was processed and out in "record time," then walked up State Street and had breakfast at The Pantry.

    "The police were very professional and polite," Colville said. "We actually were engaged in a bit of a conversation about the law and human rights. It went pretty well."

    He said he explained to a police lieutenant on the scene "what the city had done to violate these people's rights. ... I told the cops, 'You know, I apologize. I don't enjoy doing this.'"

    But "the law has been weaponized against us," Colville said.

    He said he'll be in Superior Court on March 24. "I'm going to plead not guilty," Colville said. "I think this conversation really needs to take place in a courtroom," and he eventually will be looking "to start a lawsuit about the eviction."

    The three other remaining residents left willingly after the city, working with partners such as the United Way, Columbus House and Continuum of Care, offered them help with temporary housing and storage for their belongings, said Speiller.

    Heavy equipment arrived later, including a large truck, a backhoe/payloader and a bobcat, to remove and cart away the remaining belongings of what once was more than 30 residents of the encampment. It was down to fewer than a dozen residents by the time the city issued its second eviction notice last Friday.

    Most of the remaining residents spent much of Wednesday packing their belongings and leaving. Not all were out by the city's 1 p.m. deadline, but passed without incident.

    Elicker, who came out to the encampment site about 9 a.m., said the city's intention was 'to help people move out, and everyone there" was offered a place to stay.

    City workers, including police and members of the Department of Park and Public Works, would remain at the site "until the work is done," he said. "There's a lot of debris back there."

    Elicker said the city did not just show up and push people out.

    "Our outreach workers have been here every day," he said.

    Asked how making people, some of whom don't feel comfortable in homeless shelters such as Columbus House, leave their chosen place to stay and then throwing out their remaining belongings helps them, Elicker said, "There's no perfect solution here. This is a very challenging issue."

    While talking to members of the press, Elicker was challenged by Bromage, who said, "You sent out 30 cops this morning to arrest people. This truck has their stuff ... I don't understand how that's what the solution is."

    Elicker repeated some of what was in the city's second eviction notice, which stated that despite the earlier warning to remove trash and combustibles, an inspection found evidence of "an open burn," propane tanks, gasoline cans and heaters that city workers believe were in people's tents, among other issues.

    One of the residents who remained Thursday morning, Barry Lawson, had told a reporter Wednesday that he was going to "stand my ground" and would not leave. But on Thursday, he said the city's offers of help caused him to change his mind.

    "I was originally going to go that route ... I was going to get arrested," said Lawson, a U.S. Army veteran. "But then I got offered a place (to stay) on Edgewood" Avenue by members of the city's new COMPASS crisis-intervention team.

    The COMPASS team works with, or sometimes instead of, police to defuse and resolve situations by providing social services-based solutions for things that previously might have been treated criminally.

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