Wesleyan faculty frequently publish articles based on their scholarship in The Conversation US, a nonprofit news organization with the tagline, “Academic rigor, journalistic flair.” In a new article, Charles Barber, visiting writer at Wesleyan, and Michael Rowe, professor of psychiatry at Yale University, write about a citizenship intervention program they developed over the past 20 years in New Haven to help homeless individuals reintegrate into society.
Not just a place to live: From homelessness to citizenship
Twenty years ago, Jim lived under a highway bridge in New Haven, Connecticut. He was in his 50s and had once been in the Army.
After an honorable discharge, he bounced from one job to another, drank too much, became estranged from his family and finally ended up homeless. A New Haven mental health outreach team found him one morning sleeping under the bridge. His neon yellow sneakers stuck out from underneath his blankets.
The team tried for months to get Jim to accept psychiatric services. Finally, one day, he relented. The outreach workers quickly helped him get disability benefits, connected him to a psychiatrist and got him a decent apartment.
But two weeks later, safe in the apartment, Jim said he wanted to go live under the bridge again. He was more comfortable there, where he knew people and felt like he belonged, he said. In his apartment he was cut off from everything.
As researchers in mental health and criminal justice at Wesleyan and Yale universities, we have been studying homeless populations in New Haven for the past 20 years. In that moment, when Jim said he wanted to leave what we considered the safety of an apartment, the outreach team, which co-author Michael Rowe ran, realized that, while we were capable of physically ending a person’s homelessness, assisting that person in finding a true home was a more complicated challenge.