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Ground Broken On Homeless Youth Housing

Thomas Breen


At the same time that Yale New Haven Hospital workers received the first local dosages of a Covid-19 vaccine, housing advocates in Wooster Square broke ground on a project to help solve “another, longer standing curse in our society, one that gets much less attention” than the novel coronavirus.

That is: the scourge of youth homelessness.

Youth Continuum CEO Paul Kosowsky offered that hopeful vision Tuesday afternoon during a socially distanced groundbreaking for Y2Y, a 20-bed temporary shelter and service center for homeless young adults between the ages of 18 and 24.

The hourlong ceremony took place in the parking lot adjacent to Youth Continuum’s headquarters at 924 Grand Ave.

That’s where the decades-old local homeless youth services nonprofit, in collaboration with the Harvard Square and New Haven-based nonprofit Y2Y, plans to begin construction later this month. Their goal is to complete construction and open the two-story emergency housing service’s doors next fall.

“This has been a terrible, terrible year,” Y2Y Co-Founder Sam Greenberg (pictured) said during the event. The Covid-19 pandemic, with its coinciding public health and economic crises, has taken a particularly hard toll on young people experiencing homelessness who remain in desperate need of safe, warm and stable shelter.

“Maybe today is an opportunity for us to imagine a different world,” he continued. “One where all young people are supported, affirmed, and welcomed.”

The symbolic groundbreaking—complete with gilded shovels used to move little piles of dirt spaced six feet apart—marked just the latest milestone for a project that has been nearly three years in the making.

Wooster Square neighbors initially turned out in force to oppose the project during a May 2018 public meeting. They argued at the time that Y2Y represented just another social service provider moving to an overburdened stretch of Grand Avenue. Greenberg then embarked on a year-plus-long community outreach campaign, winning the support of 150 neighbors, business owners, and other Wooster Square stakeholders before securing site plan approval from the City Plan Commission in June 2019.

Since then, he and Kosowsky have been fundraising for the $4.5 million renovation and construction project. They have also worked with Youth Continuum’s Youth Advisory Board members and other homeless youth to design the prospective space in conjunction with local architects Turner Brooks and Duo Dickinson.

Greenberg said that the partnering nonprofits have secured roughly 95 percent of their goal through a mix of public and private funding, with roughly $200,000 left to raise.

On Tuesday, Greenberg and Kosowsky said that Y2Y will offer more than just 20 beds for homeless young adults, who will be eligible to stay for between 60 and 90 days at a time.

Kosowsky (pictured) said it will also be a “one-stop shop” for young people looking for support and resources to transition out of homelessness and into stable housing.

“Upon completion next fall, we will be able to offer on-site medical and behavioral healthcare, resources specific to the LGBTQ community, legal aid, professional development and educational resources, and an on-site social enterprise” that will add jobs to the Grand Avenue block.

He also announced that Y2Y and Youth Continuum are partnering with the local child mental healthcare clinic Clifford Beers, “who will also provide on-site behavioral health resources through a fully integrated clinic.”

Last year, the annual federally-mandated Point-In-Time (PIT) Count found 503 people in New Haven experiencing homelessness. Of that total, 98 were children, 50 were adults in families, and 355 were single adults.

Kosowsky said Tuesday that 500 young people in the Greater New Haven area experienced some form of homelessness or housing instability in the past year.

Mayor Justin Elicker (pictured) praised the two nonprofit leaders for the many months of work, planning, and collaboration that has gone into Y2Y so far, include “some tense conversations at times.”

“The work that you have done I think is emblematic of why I’m so proud to be mayor of this city.”

One in 10 18-to-25-year-olds experience some form of homelessness over the course of a year, added Amour Propre Fund President Lindy Lee Gold (pictured). She said 69 percent of homeless youth report having mental health problems, and 27 percent of LGBTQ homeless youth report exchanging sex for basic needs.

“I am humbled to be part of this project to save and change the lives of the young people who will be here,” she said.

After speech after speech from local, state, and federal supporters—including Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, and representatives from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS)—the group played two video testimonies from local homeless youth who have found housing through Youth Continuum and are now involved with Y2Y.

One young woman identified herself as Ja’Mir H (pictured).

“What a year it has been,” she said. A few months ago, just as the Covid pandemic began, she got “caught up in some family drama” and ended up “homeless on the streets.”

While waiting to enter a shelter, she said, she lived in a tent, which she moved between Huntington Street and Shelton Avenue in Newhallville. On her birthday, some friends let her into their home, bought her food and let her take a shower.

Shortly after that, she found out from her Youth Continuum case worker that a bed had opened up in the nonprofit’s local youth-specific supporting housing program, which includes 12 beds of crisis housing and 45 units of youth rapid rehousing.

“I cried,” she recalled.

She said that projects like Y2Y promise a warm and safe place to sleep for young people in conditions similar to hers.

“My hope is that no one will ever feel like they’re losing hope.”

Another young woman, who did not share her name but said she is a member of Youth Continuum’s Youth Advisory Board, said that she ended up homeless during her junior year of college when her mom lost her job and the family could no longer afford tuition.

She said said she slept on buses at night to stay warm.

“Youth Continuum helped me out,” she said. She was able to get a bed in a youth shelter, connected with a case work, and eventually found her own apartment.

In praise of the student-volunteer model of Y2Y—which includes volunteers from Yale, Southern Connecticut State University, University of New Haven, Gateway, and elsewhere—she said about the program, “It’s youth helping youth.”

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