One cold night late in November, Hartford police officers Joe Walsh and K9 officer Alfredo Pizarro called in a 10-27, a community service call, from Bushnell Park.
Their K9 dog, Hundo, had sniffed out an 8-year old boy who was spending his second night sleeping outside with his mother, Haley Robbins, and her husband, Jonathan Nunez.
Robbins, who asked that her son’s name not be used, was a security deposit shy of a city apartment. While she raised more money, she said she couldn’t find berth in a homeless shelter, and so she’d bedded her family in a corner of the park’s band shell, beneath what her son called the Princess Castle, the state’s ornate capitol that crowns a hill overlooking the park.
When the officers approached the family, the boy began crying. He feared being separated from his mother. Though it is not the policy of the state’s Department of Children and Families to remove a child from a family because of poverty, the boy feared he’d enter the state’s foster care system, and lose contact with his mother.
It’s not such a far-fetched idea. New England has always had laws that penalize extreme poverty, from complex colonial “warning out” rules that allowed town leaders to expel from villages people who were poor – supposedly so those people could return to their home towns for relief. There was no centralized welfare system. Relief was provided by local taxes. No town wanted to take on the undue burden of a neighboring town’s poor.
To read more from Susan Campbell on the criminalization of homelessness in New England visit the New England News Collaborative's website.