CommunityReprints

Helping the Homeless


Photo by David Shankbone

Originally published in Inklings on June 1, 2011 by Carlie Schwaeber and Leah Bitsky

Westport is generally identified as a wealthy town, however homelessness is still an occurrence here and has impacted many individuals and families.

Terry Giegengack, Assistant Director of the Westport CT Dept. of Human Services, explained that there are shelters in Westport utilized temporarily and permanently. A Popular organization in which many homeless people use in Westport is Homes With Hope. Homes With Hope encompasses three emergency shelter locations: the Gillespie Center, Hoskins’ Place, and the Bacharach Community.

The three locations have welcome different groups of people in need. The  Gillespie Center maintains 15 beds for men and also provides social services and casework in the 24-hour facility. Hoskins’ Place, located right next to the Gillespie Center, offers the same services as Gillespie but is for women in need. The Bacharach Community is a group of homes that houses five to six families. The community serves women and children in need of a safe haven.

“The beds in the homeless shelters are almost always filled up,” said Giegengack about the shelters in Westport.

Unfortunately, many people view the homeless as people who lack a home due to substance abuse, however often times these people at the shelters have simply been stricken with bad luck.

“Usually its people who are unemployed, underemployed, or people who have mental illness,” said Paris Looney, Program Director of Homes With Hope.

As Program Director, Looney has many responsibilities including keeping the children at the shelter safe.

“All the women we bring into the program have to meet with me first,” said Looney.  Criminal background checks will be done and if the mother is a substance abuser, Paris will contact child services if she believes the children are in a perilous situation.

Moreover, another responsibility of Looney’s is to help the people in the shelter get back on their feet.

“I really advocate for my clients to really take advantage of their time here,” said Looney.

She expects the families to start preparing for living without the shelter, which means finding a job, taking in some sort of income, and looking for a new home to live in.  If these families are making any income, they must pay $8.00 a night to stay in the shelter, however the shelter will donate money if they cannot afford it.

Geigengack also noted that there has been an increase in homelessness due to the economic crisis.

“We have more people, that are coming to human services that are in a precarious situation where they lost a job due to downsizing and things like that,” Geigengack said.

But regardless of the many places Westport offers to homeless people to stay, according to Geigengack, there are about half a dozen people that prefer to live on the streets, pitch up tents, or stay in their car.

“People for reasons of their own, choose to not live in a shelter,” Geigengack said. 
One reason they may not want to stay in the shelters is because shelters have very strict rules like no drugs or alcohol.

“Some people don’t want to give that up or abide by those rules,” Geigengack said. 
   In addition, families might not want to be broken up, as many shelters such as Bacharach only allow for woman and children.

But, the Westport police and Homes with Hope keeps an eye on them to make sure that they are safe and that Westport citizens are safe.

Although a few homeless people are scattered about Westport, many people rarely see them.
“To be honest, I think I’ve only seen one homeless person in Westport,” Julia Kaner ’13 said. 
Kaner explained her surprise when she saw a homeless man standing near the highway begging for money.

“It was kind of shocking because you never see that here,” she said.

Despite many people’s unawareness of homelessness in Westport, the town has no problem receiving donations. Geigengack explained that many people are very generous with donations of money and food to Homes With Hope.