New Haven's public works department brought in trucks and bulldozers to begin dismantling the camp. Nora Grace-Flood / New Haven Independent

Police swarmed onto the tent city off the Boulevard early Thursday morning to clear the holdout campers and bulldoze the site — and make sure the press and public couldn’t watch what they were doing.

The operation began at 7 a.m.

Dozens of officers arrived to carry out an eviction order for homeless people who have been living in an encampment near a soccer field off Ella Grasso Boulevard.

The city ordered the campers last week to vacate after inspectors said they found public health violations including cooking taking place inside flammable tents and human waste on the premises. Click here and here to read previous stories about that, including debate over how best to handle homelessness and affordable housing challenges.

Campers had until Wednesday to leave. Most did.

Three of the encampment’s ongoing residents remained. They left without incident. Officers brought them McGriddles for breakfast, and members of the city’s crisis intervention team, COMPASS, worked with them to find new lodgings. The United Way is also providing storage spaces for two of the individuals kicked out of the encampment Thursday.

An advocate for the homeless, Mark Colville, was also on site. He set up a camp to protest the order to vacate. He refused to leave Thursday morning. Police arrested him for trespassing and removed him forcibly from the scene on a stretcher before taking him to 1 Union Ave.

One of the three last residents, Barry Lawson, said COMPASS had arranged for him to stay at the Youth Continuum shelter, where he was headed.

A second, Paul C, said ​“I have no idea what’s next,” as he departed.

“I just had a traumatic experience. They gave me 20 minutes to clear out. All my emotions are mixed and fucked right now.”

He had noticed a La-Z-Boy recliner abandoned on the side of Columbus Avenue a few days ago. ​“I wonder what it would be like to get drunk and pass out in that chair,” he said, weighing his options for where to sleep that night.

The third, who was named Victor, was already gone by the time reporters arrived.

Around 8:30 a.m., the public works department brought in trucks and bulldozers to begin dismantling the camp.

Former tent city resident Jacquedah, who declined to give her last name, rushed to the entryway of the encampment just as she noticed a bulldozer hauling her tent off the ground. 

“No!” she screamed, as cops rushed to hold her back from nearing the area. ​“That was my first home here!”

The Elicker administration took unusual steps to ensure the press would not see how the operation unfolded.

Beginning Wednesday, it declined to state when they planned to carry out the eviction order. They declined requests for advance notice, claiming they didn’t know the planned time.

By the time most reporters got word of the operation Thursday morning, it was well underway. Heavy machinery was on site to clear the tents and debris.

But officers set up a ​“media area” far from the location out of view of the work for much of the time. Officials claimed that that was to protect reporters’ safety. Two hours later, when residents were gone, police moved the area closer after protests from the media.

That strategy differed markedly from the last high-profile removal of an encampment, under far more challenging circumstances, during the 2012 Occupy New Haven protests. The city then carried out the removal in full view of the public, and reporters and cameras were able to capture how officers carried out the removal, including being taunted by the campers, ensuring the public could independently verify and trust information about how the operation unfolded. Click here for coverage of that different approach.

Reached after the removal, Mayor Justin Elicker attributed the distant penning of the press to a ​“miscommunication.”

“My understanding is that they had the press away from the site while they were clearing people out. I think there was a miscommunication. … My understanding with our team was that we would have the press away when the machinery went in because we wanted to keep everyone safe. In my view we should have allowed the press closer” during the removal.

Asked about the refusal to share information about timing of the removal, Elicker responded, “I don’t think it’s necessary to give that kind” of information to the media.

Lemar: Shutting Out Press ‘Invites Questions’

New Haven State Rep. Roland Lemar criticized the city for ​“not inviting the press in and not having a more public-facing” approach to the removal of the Tent City campers.

He said he respects the difficulty of the choices involved with how to deal with the homeless encampment and whether to clear it out and bulldoze it.

“I presume that this was a well thought out well executed program,” Lemar said in an interview on WNHH FM. ​“Hopefully it was a robust plan that they had in place, but not having the press there and not having a more public facing aspect of it invites questions. … 

“Once you make that choice [to go in], you have to invite the press. You have to make sure that everyone understands why you’re making the choice you’re making, that you’re making it with humanity and humility, and that you’re recognizing the very real struggles that people who are on that side of dealing with. … The optics of it would have been better if the press had been invited in and made aware of what was happening and made aware more fully of all the resources that are trying to be made available to the individuals, that the counseling that they had available on site was sufficient.”