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Rep. Rosa DeLauro Announces $1.4 million in Funding for DESK!

Rep. Rosa DeLauro Announces $1.4 million in Funding for DESK!

Yesterday was a special day for DESK as one of our strongest advocates stopped by our Drop-in & Resource Center for a very special occasion. In the final days of 2022, Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro secured over $1.4 million for renovations to DESK’s Drop-in & Resource Center.

This announcement marks a huge milestone for DESK, Cornell Scott – Hill Health Center, and the people we serve. The renovations to 266 State Street include a medical clinic staffed by Hill Health’s Homeless Healthcare Department, providing low barrier access to critical medical services for unhoused individuals, as well as a new commercial kitchen to prepare the fresh and nutritious meals that feed more than 150 people nightly. 

DESK’s Executive Director, Steve Werlin, and Congresswoman DeLauro described the finished facility as “a front door” for key services needed by people experiencing homelessness in our community.

“We’re going to continue to do what we’ve always done: provide basic needs,” said Werlin. “We’re [also] going to have next-level and specialized services offered on site … We will encourage and welcome and affirm all individuals, regardless of whatever hardships they’re bringing into the space when they come.” 

Watch the full press conference here, and learn more about how two community institutions are working together to help people move beyond homelessness. WATCH NOW!

You can also find media coverage of this announcement through the New Haven Independent, New Haven Register, and Yale Daily News.

Donation Guide

Donation Guide

The people I work with will tell you that — for better or worse — I hate to say “no” to good intentions.  Whenever someone comes to me with a good idea, a bold, new strategy, or a helpful resource, I often can’t resist.  In fact, I find that balancing our resources and capabilities with all the creative and potentially life-changing possibilities for those we serve can be hard.

In my first year at DESK, I learned that, when it comes to good ideas and helpful resources, we should try to say “yes.”  And when we do have have to say “no,” we should always say “no, but . . .”

DESK relies heavily on community support in a variety of ways.  As a result, we get a lot of well-intentioned offers for help.  Sometimes, those offers just don’t quite fit.  That’s why I was very excited in 2019 when Elaine Piraino-Holevoet put together, with support from RecycleCT and Home Haven Villages, the first Downsizing Donation Guide for New Haven.  This is handy resource to help people who are looking to donate their gently used items to community organizations like DESK.

How to Donate Your Stuff

Step 1: Check DESK’s website!  Go go to to find lists of food, toiletries, clothes, and other items we regularly need.  If your item is on there, email us at  If you’re item isn’t on there, but you really think we might want it, just email us and ask!

Step 2: Check out the Downsizing Donation Guide.  You can peruse the table of contents, or just search the whole document (CTRL+F for PC-users).

Step 3: Still can’t find a place to donate?  Let us know.  DESK works with dozens of organizations and community groups across Greater New Haven; we’ve got a great network.  We’re always eager to make a good match . . . and equally eager to trade out that “no” for a “no, but.”

NHR & NHI on U-ACT & Tent City

NHR & NHI on U-ACT & Tent City

Unhoused people were in the local news this week in two separates articles.

Yesterday, Mark Zaretsky wrote in the New Haven Register about U-ACT (the Unhoused Activists Community Team).  U-ACT is an advocacy group composed primarily of people with lived experience.  The group meets in DESK’s Drop-in Center every Wednesday at 11:00 am, in meetings facilitated by Billy Bromage of the Yale/CMHC Program on Recovery & Community Health (PRCH), along with DESK’s own Program Manager, Evan Serio, who is doing their MSW internship with PRCH.  Read the full article to learn about the experiences of Tyrell Jackson and Keith Petrulis, U-ACT’s advocacy demands to the City, and the work they’re doing behind-the-scenes.

Today, Nora Grace-Flood wrote in the New Haven Independent about “Tent City,” an encampment along the West River that has grown in recent years to about 30 people.  The piece focuses on the experiences of Nestor, who immigrated from Columbia, as well as some of the community organizers and volunteers who have been helping people here, and the City’s response to this encampment specifically and the homelessness crisis in New Haven more generally.  Read the full article to get a sense of the struggles faced by the residents of this encampment.

Got some thoughts on either of these pieces?  Share your comments below!

In memoriam: Robyn Smith

In memoriam: Robyn Smith

Yesterday, our staff said goodbye to Robyn Smith.  Robyn was, by any measure, an incredible person.  By day, she was a public defender, representing many of DESK’s clients over the years.  By night, she was a volunteer at DESK, right around the corner from her office in the courthouse.  More than that, she was a passionate supporter of and advocate for DESK’s mission in the broader community.  Robyn passed away just after Thanksgiving, when she spent the day distributing meals as part of our annual Thanksgiving for All program.  She touched the lives of so many in our circle, and she will be missed dearly by our volunteers, staff, and Guests.

With help from Ashley, our volunteer coordinator, I had the honor of eulogizing Robyn with the following words at yesterday’s memorial service:

DESK is a community-based organization, so working at DESK means you get to know a lot of people in the community: clients, Guests, donors, supporters, and, of course, volunteers.  And those who keep coming back, who make themselves fixtures within our walls, you get to really know them in a very personal way.  And I don’t mean details about their lives per se.  What I really mean is that you learn what drives them, their motivations, their passions.  At a community organization like ours, you get to find out who people really are deep down, what they’re all about.


This is the best part of working at DESK.


It is also, regrettably, the hardest part.  Because inevitably, we have to say goodbye.


Even our most passionate volunteers leave us at some point.  It’s joyous when they leave because they’ve graduated college.  And we understand when they leave to pursue a career in another state, or to start a family, or to take care of grandchildren.


But this one’s harder.  It’s hard to understand why Robyn left us.  Even impossible.  And it hurts.  A lot.


Robyn was a regular at DESK.  She didn’t just captain a monthly volunteer group from her congregation; she led that group.  She brought them together, imbuing the group with her own selflessness, love, and hilarity — and always with her characteristic smile, charm, and wit.  Last year, she brought the group to tour our new building because she was sure that this program was something they should know about and support.  Robyn understood the people around her; she could see what would interest them and get their juices flowing.  She was, in this respect, a real matchmaker: pairing those in need with those who could help.


And what is a matchmaker if not a problem-solver.  When it came to serving those most in need in our community, Robyn was determined to solve each problem that came before her, without hesitation.  When our clients faced eviction, I’d call Robyn.  And she would drop what she was doing and run up to the housing office in the courthouse.  No hesitation.  I’m on it, she’d say.  Call you back in an hour.


Robyn was a fierce advocate for DESK’s mission.  This past fall, she organized her annual food drive at the courthouse. On the Monday before Thanksgiving, Robyn came in with one measly box of canned goods and told us how disappointed she was.  Undeterred and unprompted, she announced, “I can do better.”  The next day, Robyn returned with a huge smile on her face and a thick envelope of cash and checks.  “I went around to all my coworkers,” she said, laughing through her words, “and I bullied them into donating.”  And then the next day, one day before Thanksgiving, Robyn came back again, with even more donations. She wasn’t done bullying.


The last time I saw Robyn was on Thanksgiving Day.  She showed up at 8:30 in the morning to help prepare and then distribute meals.  That afternoon, she was the last volunteer to leave.  I said goodbye to her outside by her car, and then I walked back inside to get my belongings.  When I came back out, one of our clients was waiting outside, asking if he had missed the meal service.  Many of the people we serve at DESK suffer from severe mental health disorders, so as a general safety practice, we avoid being entirely alone with clients, whenever possible.  So I asked the gentleman to wait for a moment while I ran back inside to throw together one more meal-to-go.  When I returned, I handed him the meal, he said “thank you,” and he went on his way.  Then I turned to leave.  And there, sitting in her car, waiting for me and smiling, was Robyn.  I said to her, “Rob, why are you still here?”  “Oh,” she said, “I just wanted to make sure you were OK.  I recognized that man, and I know that sometimes he can be a little out of sorts.”  I’m so grateful that the last image I get to have of Robyn is her smiling face and her gentle words of fierce protection, unrelenting kindness, and empathy for those who need it most.


Robyn left a permanent imprint on many of us at DESK, and we will never forget her: Robyn’s warmth, her love, her appreciation for family, friends, and those who give of themselves to others.  She understood the difficulties and dangers of the world around her intuitively, but, nevertheless, she was a true optimist and a model spirit.


It is so fitting that Robyn spent her last days organizing, leading, giving, advocating, and protecting those around her.  May we all be strong enough to follow Robyn’s example and her lead.

We love you, Robyn.  Thank you for allowing us to be part of your life and your story.

The Homelessness & Mental Health Crisis in NYC

The Homelessness & Mental Health Crisis in NYC

This is a very well-done, bite-sized piece on the mental health and homelessness crisis facing New York right now, and on the controversy surrounding Mayor Eric Adams’ call to expand involuntary hospitalization:

NYC’s mayor faces backlash for planning to involuntarily hospitalize homeless people
Jasmine Garsd and Steve Inskeep
NPR Morning Edition, 1/3/22

Key take-aways:

  • Mental health crises and homelessness have become more visible on the streets of NYC over the last three years
  • NYC’s Coalition for the Homeless believes that Mayor Adams’ proposal will lead to people being “swept up” when they do not need this level of treatment by those without adequate training.
  • Rumor has it that NYPD is very uneasy with the proposed expansion, as they do not feel well-trained to take on this kind of responsibility.
  • All of this is moot, since there aren’t enough beds for either shelter or in-patient mental health programs.
  • A perspective from an unhoused individual resting in Penn Station: We need housing, first and foremost.
  • Mayor Adams is finding himself at the difficult intersection of the need to fix the problem by creating more housing and manage the problem by addressing the acute need on the streets.

New Haven’s situation is analogous: an increase in homelessness driven by a lack of deeply affordable housing and insufficient, street-level mental health services.  Two critical aspects that were not included in this piece, and which affect both NYC and New Haven, is the co-occurring addiction and opioid crises, and the increase in evictions as a result of the higher rents caused by the housing shortage.