Hamden: where living is not easy

By on October 23, 2003

Quinnipiac University takes pride in its community setting and is constantly making a point to encourage students to share this setting with the rest of the Hamden community.

Jason Pollens, a student who completed his freshman year at QU last spring semester, feels Quinnipiac is not making a good enough effort to bind the students with the rest of Hamden.

“In one of my classes last semester, our professor did this thing where we would stand on different sides of the classroom and when he asked who felt a part of the community, meaning Hamden, I was the only one standing on the yes side,” Pollen said.

Other students said they view Hamden as a town that just happens to be where they attend school.

“Hamden has become a place where some of my best friends live and where I get my education. Otherwise, it’s just like any other town,” Daniel Dziadek, a senior accounting major said.

However, he does venture out into the town.

“Side Street comedy night is great,” Dziadek said.

Setting aside the establishments that are geared especially to college students, such as Eli’s on Whitney, Side Street or the Playwright, there is something much larger that students may not see.

Beyond the town there is a community of people.T These people are not here just for an education, but who are here for their livelihood.

Hamden was established in 1638.T It was named after English statesman John Hampden (the “p” is silent) and was recorded as having 1,400 “souls.”T Now Hamden has 56,913 “souls,” three recognized colleges, three state parks and a mayor named Carl J. Amento.

Hamden’s main street, Whitney Avenue, is named after Eli Whitney, who invented the cotton gin and pioneered mass production in New Haven during the Industrial Revolution.T One of Hamden’s historical establishments is the Jonathan Dickerman House, a perfectly preserved 18th-century farmhouse.

During the 18th and 19th centuries, Italian, German and Irish immigrants flocked to Hamden in search of work and eventually small family-run businesses, shops and banks sprouted up in the community.

One of these businesses, Sorrento’s Restaurant and Pizzeria of Italian cuisine, has been in Hamden since 1946.T It has become what Manager Essesai Sorrento call “one of the landmarks of Hamden.”T Sorrento is not only a businessman of Hamden, but he is also a resident.

“It’s a quiet town,” he said. “In comparison to New Haven, I’d ratherTlive here. It’s safer with better schools,” Sorrento said.

Another establishment that proves the longevity of local Hamden businesses is Carmel Gardens Flower Shoppe, which has been located on Whitney Avenue for 27 years.

Owner Andrea Connolly admitted her reasons behind starting her business in Hamden quite simple.

“I had bought an existing business [here],” Connolly said.

Sorrento offered a different reasoning behind finding a location for his shop.

“It was logical to have a business in the same town where I was living,” he said.

Though Connolly does not reside in Hamden she does consider the town a large part of her life.

“The people are good congenial neighbors,” she said, “Hamden is more home to me than [my town of] New Haven.”

Family Music Center has been in Hamden for only three years, though owner Bob Fortuna did own a bakery 25 years prior. The professional musician said he moved from New Haven to Hamden in the 60′s because the “the New Haven neighborhood was changing, it was just time to move out.” Looking for a place to reside and start a business, he chose Hamden as the best location.

“It’s a nice town,” Fortuna said.

Census data from 2000 indicates that 44 percent of the Hamden residents are in management and professional jobs, 28 percent are in sales and office occupations and 13 percent are in service occupations.

The largest job bracket is in education, health and social services, with the second largest being manufacturing and retail trade. But that only accounts for 85 percent of the population. Where does the remaining 15 percent fall?

According to the Census, 16,416 residents of Hamden, 16 years and older, are not in the labor force.

Counting out stay at home moms and dads as well as students, there is still a large amount of citizens, 4,158 of them to be exact, approximately half of which are 15 years old or older, not only unemployed but way below the federal income poverty level of $8,590.

This number may seem small compared to the city of New Haven, which has 27,613 residents in poverty. However, compared to Cheshire, which is roughly the same size as Hamden, the numbers are shocking.

Cheshire only has 750 individuals who are living in poverty, which makes Hamden number approximately 5.5 times larger.

While 4,158 individual citizens below the poverty level may seem a bit low, compared to the approximately 4,800 full time undergraduate students who attend Quinnipiac, the number suddenly becomes quite large.

The town of Hamden is trying to alleviate the situation with a program it offers unemployed citizens at their Resource Center, located at the Miller Memorial Center Library at 2901 Dixwell Avenue.

This program is unique to Hamden because it offers on-site counseling, helps unemployed residents create or update their resume, contains the most recent job searching information, and offers referrals to many of Hamden’s area agencies and support groups.

Hamden residents in need of further assistance can visit St. Ann’s Church Soup Kitchen which is “open to all” on 930 Dixwell Avenue. St. Ann’s, the only soup kitchen in Hamden, provides a seven-course dinner Monday through Friday for approximately 200 people per day.

Quinnipiac University School of Law is also involved in aiding Hamden residents below the poverty level. The two-year-old “Q-Law Outreach Project” calls for students to volunteer in soup kitchens and homeless shelters for their legal services externship.

This feature piece, about the poverty within the community, is the first in a series of three stories about the town of Hamden. Look for the others in upcoming issues of the Chronicle.

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