Some wore suits or dresses. Others wore jeans and wool caps.
Some were politicians, social service workers, police officers and Westporters who live in very comfortable homes. Others live at the Gillespie Center.
Ushers from Homes With Hope showed down-on-their-luck folks to their seats. Clergy from 3 different congregations conducted the service. The 1st selectman gave a reading. So did a Westport police officer, who spent much of his own youth in shelters.
Over 150 people — some from as far away as Baltimore and Brattleboro — filled Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church this afternoon, for a funeral service honoring a woman some never met.
Tina Wessel died last month. A homeless woman with a pronounced limp, she was a longtime fixture in downtown Westport.
In her life on the streets — and in the shed near the Senior Center where her body was found — she touched many hearts.
“She gave a lot of people the finger. She dropped a lot of f-bombs,” one woman said. “But look at all these people. They saw beyond that.”
They did indeed. As one woman related in remarks after the service, Tina had another remarkable side. An hour after receiving a donation of food, Tina knocked on the agency’s door.
“Here’s what I don’t need,” she said, returning some of her goods. “Can you give it to somebody else?”
Photos of Tina Wessel, from the program today.
Rev. Peter Powell — who founded and served as the first CEO of Homes With Hope — delivered a powerful, challenging sermon.
“Tina touched many of us in ways that would probably surprise her,” he said.
He noted that many of the readings at the service mentioned bringing bread to the hungry, and giving homes to the homeless.
“She was a challenge to work with,” Rev. Powell acknowledged. “But Tina had a role in Westport — one that we all need to think about.”
Rev. Peter Powell (center) before the funeral, flanked by 1st Selectman Jim Marpe and Rev. Jeffrey Ryder of Green’s Farms Congregational Church.
He recalled similar Westporters whose funerals he officiated at — though one had only 3 mourners. He told their stories, and mentioned them all by name. They may have been homeless, but they were not faceless or nameless.
“Tina died cold, sick, alone and homeless,” Rev. Powell said. She — and others like her — should be remembered not because they needed us, but because “we need them.”
The town of Westport, police and Homes With Hope tried to help, Rev. Powell continued. Westport — “an amazingly generous town” — does far more for its homeless citizens than virtually any other affluent suburb in the country.
Tina did not accept some of that help. “Her reasons make no sense to you. But they did to her,” Rev. Powell explained.
“It’s not enough to love prodigiously, if people are cold or alone. We admired her pluck, her nature, her independence. But we could not find a way to house her as she wished.”
Calling Tina “an apostle,” Rev. Powell said that she has enabled us to “discover ourselves.”
When the service ended, Tina’s ashes were honored outside, in the church courtyard. It’s in the midst of downtown, where she spent so much of the last years of her life.
Mourners stood outside, as Tina’s ashes were honored in the heart of downtown.
Then everyone — social service workers, police officers, Westporters in very comfortable homes, residents of the Gillespie Center, and anyone else who knew Tina (or wished they had) — gathered downstairs. They shared food and coffee together.
And they remembered Tina.
(Donations in Tina’s name may be made to Westport Animal Shelter Advocates or Homes With Hope.)
Photos of Tina and her brother Ludy — when both were young — were displayed on a board in the church’s Branson Hall.