AP NEWS

Homeless woman says Milford park’s new curfew violates her rights

January 3, 2019

MILFORD — A homeless woman who has been living in her truck at Milford’s Fowler Park says the city is violating her rights by imposing a 9 p.m. park closing time and that she plans to sue.

Mary Schipke, 61, who says her truck is in a rear parking lot, called the closing time — which would force her to leave at night — “an act of war” and a violation of her constitutional rights.

Fowler Park, the area which includes the Milford library, playground, tennis courts and basketball courts, was designated a city park at the December Board of Aldermen meeting. After the meeting, the curfew signs went up.

Schipke delivered a handwritten letter to the City Clerk’s office Dec. 31, notifying the city that she intends to sue over the placement of signs that state the closing hour of Fowler Park.

City Attorney Jon Berchem said he received Schipke’s letter of intent to sue the city on Wednesday. He could not comment on the matter, though he said the city has not violated constitutional rights by posting the park rules.

In recent months, there has been an increase in the number of homeless people in and around the library, including a person who has set up a tent in Wilcox Park behind the library. Residents have reported that they are hesitant to use the library, especially the book drop at night.

The Beth-El Center is working with the mayor’s office, local police, health officials, the fire department, Bridges Healthcare and the library staff to address the issue. Outreach workers are going into the library two days a week to offer services and gather information to help the homeless.

Officials who have spoken about the homeless situation in recent weeks, including the police chief, have said that homeless people have rights, and that homelessness is not a crime.

Schipke said she sleeps on a mattress in the back of her truck at night with a propane heater to keep her warm. She spends her days at the library, grocery store and other places. She uses some of the approximately $750 she gets each month from Supplemental Security Income for a YMCA membership so she can shower.

Earlier this week, she fought back tears as she debated whether she would risk a fine by sleeping in the parking lot that night or try to find another place to park and sleep.

Schipke said she has been banned from the local homeless shelter, so that is not an alternative for her.

She cites a long list of medical problems that keep her from working, problems she claims date back to chemical agents used on her late mother in the military. She talks about government conspiracies and illegal immigrants taking funds and resources that could be going to the nation’s homeless.

Schipke argues that she hasn’t been bothering anyone, and adds that the harbor air at Fowler Park has been good for her health. She doesn’t want to move elsewhere.

Homeless shelter officials said they are aware of Schipke and her plight and said they have tried to work with her over the years. They confirm that Schipke has been banned from Beth-El because of “violent threats” against staff, but point out that she is not banned from other shelters in the region or state, which they have tried to transition her to.

Schipke has filed other lawsuits in the past, including one against the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection in 2015 for telling her to leave the former dump area of Silver Sands State Park where she had set up an encampment. According to the state’s judicial website, the case was dismissed in 2016, as was a subsequent appeal.

Officials say that cases like Schipke’s require “stabilization of physical and mental health services as well as supportive housing.”

To Schipke, the matter is pretty clear cut: She says her rights are being violated.

Looking at her laptop computer at the Milford Public Library, she refers to a 2016 report by the Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School, “The Criminalization of Homelessness in Connecticut.”

The report, in part, defines “the criminalization of homelessness” as including laws “that restrict behaviors in which people experiencing homelessness must engage to survive.”

“Constantly being told to move from the park, then the plaza, then the coffee shop, Connecticut’s homeless feel they have ‘nowhere to go,’ the report states, adding that the criminalization of homelessness violates Connecticut, federal, and international law.

“People experiencing homelessness often have no choice but to perform basic daily activities in public,” according to the report. “Yet many cities choose to ban these very behaviors. Loitering, panhandling, and anti-camping ordinances restrict human rights and may constitute cruel and unusual punishment.”

Schipke refers to these statements, as well as other state and national policies and lawsuits, as she talks about the recent signs posted at the park.

Beth-El Center Director Jenn Paradis said during a recent interview that the intent of posting a curfew at Fowler Park isn’t just to move people somewhere else in the cold, but to help them.

“We don’t want to criminalize these people,” Paradis said. “That wasn’t the intent.”

AP RADIO
Update hourly