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Homelessness in Westport

Jeff Wieser

This Letter to the Editor appeared in the MinuteMan on Feb. 24, 2015

Many people laugh when I tell them that I run “the homeless organization” in Westport. Surely there cannot be a “homeless problem” in our beautiful community. But there is, of course, a homeless problem in our community — and in every town in this very blessed County in which we live. Since 1983, however, Westport has chosen to respond to the challenge

  • with a homeless shelter nestled in the heart of downtown on Jesup Green.
  • with a shelter for single mothers and their children near Exit 42 of the Merritt; and
  • with 39 units of Permanent Supportive Housing (“PSH”) apartments, which we have come to conclude is the true answer to the plague of homelessness.

2014 was a very good year for Homes with Hope.

  • We housed over 210 people, of whom 54 were children.
  • More than 400 volunteers served over 30,000 meals in the Gillespie Center’s Community Kitchen; and
  • We distributed over 2000 bags of contributed groceries to help local citizens save money to pay the rent and avoid homelessness.

In a recent report to my Board I enumerated some highlights of the year, and these included:

  • Our purchase of 2 more units of PSH. Acquisitions are hard and expensive, so when we are able to purchase even 2 units it is wonderful. We hope to do more this year.
  • Our leadership in the Greater Norwalk Housing First Collaborative has allowed us to apply for grants successfully and create a pipeline that will permanently house as many as 70 people in 2015. It is exciting to see these results by working closely with Norwalk agencies to align our activities.
  • It is always a joy to report that there were no real crises during a year. Our programs are well-managed and we work hard to be good neighbors. Our staff makes sure that this remains the case year after year.
  • Perhaps my favorite statistic: 724 Westport households made financial contributions to Homes with Hope last year, and many more provided food to the Community Kitchen and Food Pantry. This shows that Westport is not just a town of McMansions. It is a community that cares about all its residents.

So all is good, right? Not so much. Our programs are at capacity virtually every night of the year, and during the cold weather we are often 25 percent over capacity.

We don’t want more shelter space; we want fewer shelter residents. We ARE making progress in the pursuit to end homelessness, but it will take time and a patient community. We support the government’s plan to end chronic homelessness by the end of 2016. That can happen, and we are an enthusiastic participant in making sure it does.

Jeff Wieser
President & CEO
Homes with Hope