This letter was published in the Westport News on Friday, March 24, 2017.
To the Editor: Thanks for Chris Marquette’s typically well-written article (March 6, 2017) on the tempest raging in Westport as a result of the essay contest on “white privilege.” It is upsetting to see the intemperate protests by correspondents on both sides of the aisle. They are choosing to take on Westport for a host of issues that are misguided.
They picked on the wrong town, and I have a unique perspective to tell you why.
Westport is very largely white. Its residents are, largely, fortunate economically. But Westport is nearly unique among American affluent suburbs in the way it treats its least secure citizens and neighbors.
Since 1984, my organization, Homes with Hope has run a homeless shelter for single men in the heart of our downtown. Every night of the year since 1984, local volunteers have provided a warm cooked meal to the residents and other needy neighbors who show up for dinner at 5 pm. Our shelter for families opened in 1992, a shelter for single women opened in 1993, and we started providing apartment units for chronically homeless individuals with a host of mental health issues in 1998. We recently merged with Westport’s Project Return, an eight-bedroom house that has provided nurturing care for young women since 1985.
In total, we house nearly 115 individuals in beds every night, each of them cared for by a case worker who provides the structure to help them avoid, or overcome, homelessness. Thirty percent of our residents are black.
Homelessness is generally confronted in big city shelters which cannot afford to care for the large numbers of locals and dispossessed suburbanites who have nowhere else to turn. So which town does not contribute to the crisis of surrounding big cities? Westport.
More than 600 Westport households provide over 65 percent of our total annual budget, and many more volunteer in our 11 locations around town. Unlike the NIMBY concerns that so often greet this social justice work in nearly every other town in America, a large percentage of our citizens work with our homeless population, support them and welcome them to the town’s facilities. If this is white privilege, more towns need to adopt it, to foster it and help to solve the country’s economic problems.
Rather than being vilified, suburban Westport should be copied. Westport has the answers to solving the country’s homelessness problems. Why is no other affluent suburb asking the questions?
President & CEO
Homes with Hope, Inc.