When COVID roared through Westport in mid-March, residents hunkered down at home. Life was hard.
For the area’s homeless population, staying home was not an option. Life was infinitely harder.
For over 30 years, Westport has been blessed with — and embraced — a homeless shelter. Located in the heart of downtown — just steps from Tiffany — the Gillespie Center (serving 15 men) and Hoskins Place (4 women) have provided beds, meals, and career and emotional counseling for folks down on their luck.
But living in bunk beds, and sharing common rooms, in the midst of a pandemic was dangerous. Instantly, Homes with Hope — the center’s umbrella organization — found a solution.
Clients were moved to a hotel in a nearby town. Meals (purchased from local restaurants) were delivered to them. In the months since the coronavirus struck, not one of those men or women has fallen ill.
The empty center gave Homes with Hope an idea. This was the perfect opportunity to make needed renovations.
While the clients were away, the men’s residence was repainted. Dividers and wardrobes were installed. A new floor was laid. Thanks to a generous discount from Westport Glass, the showers were redone too.
Similar updates were made to the women’s shelter.
The common area got new furniture, courtesy of a Westport Woman’ Club grant. It’s not just a meeting place; it’s where the Gillespie and Hoskins residents work with case managers.
Clients will return soon. Though CDC guidelines limit the number of guests now to 10 men, and 2 women, Homes with Hope executive director Helen McAlinden is thrilled to welcome them back.
She is always happy too, to see them leave.
From the moment guests move into the shelter, Homes with Hope’s goal is to have them leave.
Case managers — all with master’s degrees — help residents create individual housing plans, tailored to each individual situation. Case managers also help residents get jobs and connect with family, plus receive medical benefits, and mental health and addiction services.
“I am proud of the staff. What they’ve accomplished is a testimony to their dedication to our mission,” McAlinden says. She gives a special shoutout to Paris Looney, Homes With Hope’s vice president and chief operating officer.
As residents return to the Gillespie Center and Hoskins Place, Homes With Hope will continue its food services too. In addition to meals served to clients, the organization runs a food pantry open to all Westporters. Two bags of groceries — stocked with pasta, sauce, tuna fish beans, rice, tinned chicken and other non-perishables — are available each week.
All of that food comes from donations. For hours of access, or how and what to donate, click here. To learn more about Homes with Hope, and/or donate funds, click here. To find out what else is needed, click here.
It’s been a rough several months for everyone. But Homes with Hope — its leaders, case managers and clients — have weathered the storms.
McAlinden looks forward to re-engaging with everyone. “Westport is very special,” she says. “I’m glad I can be part of this special community, taking care of Fairfield County’s most vulnerable with grace and dignity.
To learn more about Homes with Hope — or schedule an individual tour, before guests return — call 475-225-5292.