The two men sitting on the benches in Bushnell Park laugh when
they hear the YMCA across the street is getting out of the housing
"Hey, at least we'll have the same view when we get kicked
to the curb," Marco Vasquez says. "Just from a different
When you're down on your luck, the men say, you need your sense
of humor - as Vasquez has discovered lately. After he and his
wife divorced a few years ago, he came to Hartford and found
the job market - he's a landscaper - a little leaner than he
expected. By the time he sends most of what he makes to his wife
and kids - and he's not complaining - there's not much left.
Definitely not enough for a security deposit on an apartment.
Sometimes that means he sleeps in the park or, when he's really
desperate, a shelter. But when he can, he heads for the Y.
"Guess it's time for Plan B," he
I wish him luck. But that's just it - for a lot of people, the
Y is Plan B.
It's the safety net for someone caught between apartments, the
step up for someone working her way out of a shelter. As of sometime
next year, there will be 125 fewer second chances in the city.
It's hard to fault the Y in this, although housing advocates
all over the city were Wednesday. It's a great organization that
has served people well in many ways for many years. Who can blame
them for converting a valuable asset - land along the park -
into money to open new facilities and run programs in the city's
Tom Reynolds, the Y's vice president for development services,
says the organization would work with all the current residents
to find them good housing alternatives. My fear is, that's easier
said than done.
These folks aren't charity cases - they're paying $140 to $175
a week to stay at the Y. But that doesn't go far in a region
where the fair market rent on a two-bedroom apartment is approaching
$900 a month.
Even if enough affordable housing existed, many of the Y's residents
can't make it in traditional apartment living, for any of a million
reasons. Their incomes might be sporadic; they might be physically
or mentally incapable of maintaining their own home; they might,
like one long-term resident I talked to, just be disinclined
to undergo the hassle.
"I'm extremely comfortable here," said
Laurie Young, who has lived at the Y for 11 years.
The homeless shelters are the last resort; people like Vasquez
would rather live on the streets. Even if they get desperate
enough to go to the shelters, there may not be enough room: Immaculate
Conception Shelter on Park Street just opened for the winter;
it's turning away 10 to 20 people a night, and it's not even
There is an alternative: supportive housing, combining affordable
rents with social services. And after fighting for years, Mayor
Eddie Perez and Roseanne Haggerty, executive director of Common
Ground, are working together to develop supportive housing in
"I know we have a tough housing situation in the city," Perez
said. "And a lot of people are working hard to deal with
Haggerty said Wednesday she might be able to announce a site
for 100 units of supportive housing in the next month or so -
good news after three years of work in the city.
But do the math: Without the 125 rooms at the Y, that gain suddenly
becomes a loss.
"I was a lot more excited about the announcement before
I heard about this," Haggerty said.
At the front desk Wednesday, another guest at the Y who gave
his name as just Tom was looking for some change for the vending
machine when he heard the news.
He was surprised, he said. But he's been in this situation before.
He used to live in a subsidized apartment in Groton, and then
Pfizer bought some real estate in his neighborhood. His rent
skyrocketed, the subsidy stayed the same.
He lived in his car until a local shelter helped set him up
at the Y four months ago.
If worse comes to worse, he said, he'll live in his car again.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at