Homeless In Westport

We’ve all seen her around Westport:  the woman with the limp.  We see her on the Post Road; at the Y; in the library.  Some of us wonder if she’s homeless; others of us can’t imagine that anyone here does not have a home.

Some of us think about her after our eyes lock for a few seconds.  Others of us try to forget.

An “06880” reader thinks about her — and more.  He’s spoken with her a few times; now he writes eloquently about her.  Here’s what he says:

Her name is Tina.  She has long, graying blonde hair in a neat bun on the top of her head.  “It keeps me warm at night,” she says.  “I don’t need a hat.”

Her eyes are brown, flirting with too many questions but clear and precise at the conveyance of a $20 bill.  She wears 5 layers of clothing in the cold, and shows off her leather coat insulated by rabbit fur.

“It’s new, too.  Nobody else has owned it,” she remarks proudly.  “I bought it when I had money.”

She wears sandals with several socks.  “The boot place down there,” she points aimlessly in the direction of Main Street, “promised me some boots when it snows.”

Tina has no money, no address, no driver’s license and no home.  “I had an apartment last winter but I don’t trust any of the landlords in this town,” she confides.

Where does she live?  “Oh, I can’t tell you that,” she says in an upbeat mood.  “That is where I keep all my stuff.”  Malone Refuse workers have found her sleeping in their dumpsters.

The homeless in Westport do not look like this. They are much more invisible.

When you first meet this 50-something lady, she is shy and removed.  She continues to walk past you, head to the ground, limping on her right leg.  When you mention money, her mood changes and she talks a blue line.

“I used to live in Hawaii, then California and well . . . all over, you might say.”  She is coherent, with no smell of alcohol on her breath.  Tina says she grew up here, and was a member of the Staples Class of ’71.  The yearbook does not substantiate her claim.

“I went to the old Staples,” she says, “when it was down by the water.”  The dates are wrong.  You don’t correct her.

Her luck turned bad when her brother and mother died, according to her story.  One tries not to judge, but her saga is full of contradictions.  At our second meeting, a long coat and fur hat I found in the basement are rejected.

“If I walk into Oscar’s in that hat, they’ll throw me out and that coat has a satin lining.  No way, brother!”  We talk more.

What about the shelter?  “I have a cat.  They won’t allow me to stay there with my cat.”  There is no evidence of a pet, but that is her story.

“I’m afraid of when the snow comes,” she smiles.  “I don’t mind the cold.  It’s the snow that gets you.”

You mean like dying?  “Yeah.  That’s crossed my mind,” she says.  A rasp accompanies her chuckle.

A call to Town Hall reveals true compassion.  “We know about her,” says coordinator Terry Giegengack. “But we really can’t go into the particulars for privacy reasons.”

The woods beyond the Westport Library riverwalk -- behind the Levitt Paviliion -- is a popular spot for Westport's homeless people. It's a lot less comfortable in December than other times of year.

There is a place for her to stay.  “Tina doesn’t want any part of the indoors.  They’re called ‘campers’,” Terry explains. “They like their lifestyle.  They don’t like to be confined.”

When Tina is told that the Town of Westport has a place for her to live, she replies:  “What, in a insane asylum?”  I assure her it is not.  “Then I should check it out.  Next week maybe.”

When the topic of homeless Tina is brought up at a dinner party where lobster is served the following night,  the reaction is mixed.  Two seem uncomfortable with the topic.  One asks:  “What’s wrong with her?”  I have no answer.  Interest fades.

An elderly woman comments, “it’s sad that in Westport we have this problem.”  My first reaction is that homelessness is only a “problem” for those without a home, but I stuff another bite of lobster down without comment.

Tracy says there are only “4 or 5” people like Tina, who have no place to live in this town.  She uses the word “campers” again, like they’ve lost their RV.

I see Tina a 3rd time —  sneaking out of the YMCA.  “You know sometimes, they let me take a shower there,” she says proudly.

It was cold last night — in the 20s.  I keep the conversation moving as, for some strange reason, I feel uncomfortable around this woman.

“I do okay.  The wind died down.  I’m okay.”  It’s supposed to snow tonight, I say.

“Oh, my, then, I need to get over to Town Hall, shouldn’t I?” she remembers.

I hand her a $20 bill.  “Thank you, I’m starving.  I’m going to Oscar’s to get something to eat.”

But she walks the opposite way.

33 responses to “Homeless In Westport

  1. But for the grace of God, there go I. Tina is a kind and special person, she is homeless and has her “stories and history” which she will share for a cup of coffee. The “problem” of homeless like Tina is much like other “problems” we have in this town and everywhere else in this state, country and world. Homelessness, drug abuse, alcoholism, depression all maladies that have a common denominator, they can only be “fixed” if the individual wants to help themselves. They can be offered shelter, rehab, sobriety, money and goodwill. But it just will not matter or change anything for those in trouble if they do not want to accept help or allow others to help them. It is a fact, you read about Tina, you may have a family member or acquaintance who is a addict, alcoholic or is depressed (especially this time of year). Feel for them, be generous to the salvation army kettle and other hands that reach out this holiday season and pray for them. But accept them and their ghosts, all the goodwill and all the efforts that go to help these misfortunate will not always bear fruit of success in our eyes. The simple gestures you offer may not be long term solutions but may spark some hope that may someday snap them out of their bonds. Thank your God for your health and good fortune this season and offer a request that Tina and others may someday enjoy the same, if that is what they want. Merry Christmas all.


  2. Chip–
    Thank you for your well chosen words. It gave me much to think about and much to be thankful for.

  3. Nicely written piece Dan. Compelling, moving and thought-provoking. (So well done, in fact, that I wish I had written it!)

  4. I did not write it! As the italics at the top of the piece note, this was contributed by an “06880” reader. I too wish I had been so insightful and perceptive.

  5. “Feel for them …. Accept them and their ghosts …. Thank your God for your health and good fortune this season and offer a request that Tina and others may someday enjoy the same, if that is what they want. ”
    Chip, this is what its all about. Thanks for your eloquent words.

  6. A town official contacted me, to make sure that “06880” readers understand that representatives of many agencies — including Police and Human Services — have made “countless efforts, almost on a daily basis,” to try to help Tina.

    The official said she does have a substantial bank account.

    “We do feel for her,” the official — speaking personally — said. “We understand there are many factors involved in her situation, but we are frustrated that she resists so many efforts to help.”

    • Your comment above is correct in all details, especially the last line. I wonder if she has a court-appointed conservator to help her? I have given her a ride several times and with me, she is pleasant company, but other may disagree. Such is her nature.

  7. This was a beautifully written piece that avoided the traps of becoming too maudlin. Well done. Chip’s response was equally powerful with good doses of both sympathy and reality.

    The bottom line is that this is a woman who doesn’t want to be helped. Perhaps she is happy the way she is. Who are we to judge another person’s happiness?

  8. The Dude Abides

    Excellent observation, “Painted lady.” I am not sure that Tina would be happy in any other setting. In response to CHIP’s eloquent comment (above), there is a fine line between enabling and help in cases where addiction is a main cause of homelessness. Senator McGovern lost his daughter to such affliction and has written a wonderful book. But let us also remember that there are some 97,000 homeless in Los Angeles every night and millions in our country. This problem extends far beyond our township. Lord, I hope Tina has a place to stay inside tonight!!

  9. Some people are content with the way they are – regardless they do not meet our standards of happiness.

    Does anyone have issues with this tall, sandy-haired man wearing a gym shorts? He’s the one with biggest, thickest calves in Fairfield County. He can be seen on Main Street, at Starbucks, Saugatuck train station, or in the library.

    About 20-25 times in the past three years, he quietly approached me. “Pssst, do you wanna buy a match?”. He opens his palm, revealing a matchstick…. and a white rolled thingy intended for a mind-blowing experience. How shrewd of him.

  10. I have a story about Bob. Bob was from one of the “finer families” in Darien and was an All-State wrestler. The booze got the best of him in his 30’s and he lost his family, business and friends. He roamed the country, finally ending in North Carolina. He panhandled the college kids for money to mostly drink. His mail was return addressed “Behind Jack-in-Box.” He found some relief from the VA in Raleigh. In its infinite wisdom, Congress deemed alcoholism a disease and immediately Bob obviously qualified. He got a monthly check and retroactively, a big one. He bought a car. What every alcoholic should have. Congress repealed its definition and Bob was without money. Still no home. A loving nurse at the VA finally got him a stipend for being manic-depressive. Relatives attempted to help. Apartments were leased but Bob found his way to get evicted each time. The elements finally got the best of him and Bob relented to living with his mother. He receives 800+ dollars a month from the VA and spends his time in front of the television, a beer in hand and a cigarette in the other. Sad? Pathetic? Freeloader? Sick? Your choice of words. Bob doesn’t much care. He has heard them all, all his life.

  11. Such a sad story, though I’m heartened to hear that town reps have been trying to help Tina, even if she’s been resisting their overtures. I hope she finds somewhere warm to sleep tonight.

  12. A wonderful narrative by a wonderful writer. I am glad to see the town of Westport so concerned. We Westporters are not just one blend of vanilla but a vast array of many different flavors and characters. May Tina find her own warmth and peace this holiday season. She shall be in my thoughts and prayers.

  13. Yes, Tina did grow up in Westport. I don’t know her exact age, but most likely in her mid-late 50’s. Her brother did die last year, I believe. Her mom, several years ago. She has been part of the fabric of Westport’s homeless population for many years. Sadly, there are more than a few of Westporters who fall into that category. Fortunately, Homes with Hope (formerly IHA) and the Town offer lots of help along with local merchants and other non-profits. Thank you for writing so sensitively about Tina.

  14. I am sure Tina would not want people delving into her past. That certainly was not the purpose of my writing. She is a very private person and I respect her privacy. The intent of the piece was to bring awareness of homelessness here in Westport and perhaps, some holiday generousity spread her way.

  15. An “06880” reader asked me to post this:

    Reminds me of Reverend Ted Hoskins, Saugatuck Congregational Church, who used to campaign for a homeless shelter in Westport, and established one by the bridge.

  16. I know that it’s already been said, but again I saw personally many times how enormously helpful the Westport Police and also the staff at SBUX on Main Street are in terms of trying to offer assistance to her and the other homeless around Westport. I don’t think that this woman and the others around there would be able to go on without their anonymous generosity.

  17. I think you are all missing the point. This woman is mentally ill. Instead of the us having laws to protect her from herself and get her indoors we have laws to preserve her right to live, and probably die, on the streets.

  18. Anon: You make a valid point and efforts are being made currently to find her an apartment downtown for the winter months. However, anything less than committing her to a mental hospital, the laws are designed to follow her freedom of choice.

  19. dan and person who wrote the post, i think you finally accomplished saving this woman from damaging herself more in this cold weather; everyone reading this blog will sleep a little better knowing that she isn’t freezing to death/developing frost bite, etc.

    re. using ticker, SBUX: there’s no investment conspiracy going on here to plug the stock or anything of the sort; it’s just faster to write SBUX than Starbuck’s Coffee Shop and it’s faster to use 4letters that already represents the company than to come up with my own acronym forcing people to figure out what it means.

  20. Tina is, unfortunately, mentally ill. She did lose her brother last year and her mother several years ago. She has had two apartments that I know of, but she has great difficulty getting along with other tenants. While I think this article is well intended, I know she would be furious that her privacy has been violated and that so many people in town now know her name.

  21. The Dude Abides

    I suspect that you are right, Katie, that Tina would be furious. But the common thread among the commentators here is one of compassion and not pity. I don’t see the reaction of Westporters as one of ridicule when they see her walking the streets. Instead, hopefully, they will approach her with a few dollars or a spare coat or some new boots. And I do believe Tina would be most welcoming of such gestures, her anger fettered.

  22. Hey Dan, you ought to spend a night at Gillespie Center and write a piece on your experience of living with homeless men.
    Just a thought.

  23. Have we gone back to the dark ages, when people were put on display for our enjoyment? Did Tina give consent to be interviewed. Is she able to make that choice on her own? I hope an attorney in town will come forward and take legal action against this author. Tina could certainly use the money. Leave her alone; offer her food, money, or warm clothes. The author of this article should ask her if she would accept a warm coat, and buy her the warmest coat available. She is a person, not a spectacle. This author should be identified, and now pay the legal price for this breach of privacy. Let the ghost come forward.

  24. PS, interesting how the author is anonymous i.e. ghost writer

  25. The Dude Abides

    I find it interesting that you remain anonymous and ask the ghost writer to reveal his/her identity. Also, you must have not read the article or the comments for coats were offered and money was tendered to Tina. In addition, efforts are apparently being made to find her an apartment for the winter, rent free. As a former federal attorney, your knowledge of the law is limited if not totally nonsensical. No privacy issue was violated. No real name was divulged. Conversations are not privledged. I believe it is you that live in the Dark Ages and seriously question your concern for Tina rather than your own self-centered ideology.

  26. The Dude Abides

    A recent study by a Boston College graduate along with an efficiency study by Princeton, indicates that it would be cheaper to merely give the homeless an apartment to live. According to the research, the “chronic homeless” cost the various cities countlesss millions in hospital bills. The creation of shelters and soup kitchens do little to solve the problem and actually perpetuate the issue. With proper monitoring, many of the homeless do very well when merely given a key to the a place to live. Of course, the politicans have all sorts of problems with such a solution. But as the Mayor of Denver has advocated, if you want to solve the problem in the most efficient manner, free housing is the answer. Gosh, I hope Tina has found a place for tonight (12/26/10).

  27. Pamela Bunting Lewis

    New to Westpot, Connecticut and I find myself wanting to help. What a welcoming place which is not typical in America now. I find myself low on fuel and funds but full of ideas and a desire to work and be an asset. I was robbed and cheated our to my family home of 44 years that I was to inherit among other things so I left my state after abuse and finding myself at risk. I lived in Connecticut before. I pray and get Scriptures for guidance and direction and that is what led me to Westpot, that and the knowledge of the non profit sector after 23 years in the Washington, D.C. area, 2 years of the NYC area, 6 years of the Boston area and a year of Las Vegas, Nevada where police officers there were actually told to beat up the homeless so that they did not return. Four homeless people died in Boston the same year that 896 homeless persons died on the streets of San Francisco. Boston was upset that such a thing could happed with all they offer. I tried to help there and found myself homeless at one point after a traumatic divorce. I paid for a program for working women in transition but had worked so I was there just a short time. I went back to Massachusetts and decided that with my own daughter in New York I might rather be closer to New York and came to Connecticut. When I first married I wanted to live in Connecticut, have dark pine furniture and to enjoy the snow. Life was so simple then. Had an excellent life, much experience, and have chosen the Lord and His calling now pretty much. I am very impressed with the vision and message as I read of Westport, Connecticut and the interest in the arts which my daughter and I also share, She is a professional playright and I have been writing and doing things to affect POSITIVE change since 1989. I am a bit stiff in movement due to arthritis and thought about hot and dry but it is too far for now. I am in my 50’s and would love to find a way to work into things here. I have many places that I have lived and worked and find that an asset to my perspective to things. Joy is my favorite work and I share the joy of the Lord in my daily life. You will see me reading my Bible quite often. I find the answer to most questions that I have there. I want to be an asset to all. God Bless. Time is up on the Library compter. Pamela Bunting Lewis PMBLWORLD@Yahoo.com September 15, 2011