Tiny homes built in New Haven’s backyard provide shelter for the homeless

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — A new initiative in New Haven is testing the waters on homeless shelters. In just a few hours this week, six tiny houses were brought to the backyard of Amistad Catholic Workers on Rosette Avenue. For decades, the religious community has provided warm meals and hospitality to those in need.

Now, eight people who were living in tents in their backyard have a home of their own for the first time in a long time.

“These tiny houses meant hope,” said Suki Godek, who moved into one of the tiny homes on Tuesday.

Godek is one of many evacuated from a camp dubbed “Tent City” earlier this year after the city deemed the property unsafe. Since April, Godek and her husband have been staying at the Amistad Hotel.

“This is the first time I’ve felt like home. We have our own privacy and this gives you back that sense of dignity and that feeling of being part of a neighborhood and part of a community,” Godek said.

“What we wanted to do was create a model of what a sponsored camp could look like,” said Mark Colville, resident member of Amistad Catholic Worker.

Colville and others involved with the Rosette Neighborhood Village Collective have been dreaming up the “tiny house” model since the beginning of this year. After raising $123,000, they bought the tiny houses and brought them to their yard on Saturday. Within hours, they were ready to go.

“We need models of transitional housing where people can live independently, and then move on. They have to have, I like to say, two feet on the ground with which they can fight their way out of poverty,” Colville said.

But the problem is, New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker said, they’re not using proper protocol.

“It came to our attention and we reached out to them and said, ‘You can’t do this without zoning approval and without a building permit,’” Elicker said.

On Tuesday, the city sent people in the community neighborhood a cease-and-desist order, telling them to remove the tiny homes. On Friday, another letter was sent by the building department. Building officials noted that the 203 Rosette Street location was, “Multiple platform shelters were constructed on the property as well as non-compliant fencing without the required permit(s) and approval(s). Concerns regarding fire resistant construction and solid fuel heating sources without smoke or carbon dioxide detection. No sanitation approvals or services WPCA No approvals or hookups for utilities (electrical, mechanical, plumbing).”

The letter orders residents to evacuate immediately until approval is given by the office. It also states that they must obtain permits immediately after obtaining this second letter.

If they don’t comply, the next step will involve filing a lawsuit, Elicker said.

“We want to make sure people are safe. We want to facilitate more affordable housing but people have to follow the law like everyone else in the city,” Elicker said.

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Elicker said he and Amistad have the same goal: to support homeless people and create affordable housing. He pointed to several initiatives the city has invested in, including the recent purchase of a hotel to house at least 112 unhoused individuals.

“The structures are not allowed within the zoning code. They don’t have building permits, and that’s not acceptable because every property owner in the city is required to follow a process when they want to build a structure that may not be allowed by the zoning code,” Elicker said.

But Colville reiterated that they would not go down without a fight.

“This is the neighborhood’s solution to homelessness. The question for the entire neighborhood now is will the city become a full partner with it? Or will they criminalize it and try to push it out?” Colville said.

Julia LeBlanc is a reporter for FOX61 News. She can be reached at jleblanc@fox61.com Follow her Facebook, X And Instagram.

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