It’s been a hard year for Homes with Hope. The Westport non-profit dedicated to ending homelessness in Fairfield County has seen demand for its services rise during COVID. Meanwhile, supporters are stretched thin.
Many Westporters know of the Gillespie Center men’s shelter, and Project Return for young women. But Homes with Hope runs many programs, and does much more.
They’ve just released a compelling video. Produced by Westporter Livio Sanchez, it shows how they act — even in a pandemic — to keep the most vulnerable community members safe. Click below to see:
During 2019-20, Homes with Hope served 1,234 individuals.
The Gillespie Center emergency homeless shelter operated at full capacity to host 126 guests
Permanent supportive housing served 75 individuals
ASAP (After School Academic Program) provided academic support for housing program children and community neighbors
HEAL and Mentoring Initiative programs provided support to young people in our schools and community
The community kitchen and food pantry provided over 21,000 meals and 1,400 bags of groceries.
In March, Homes with Hope pivoted. They implemented new policies and procedures to follow DC and Health Department guidelines. Staff members became front-line heroes.
Client numbers increased. But no one was turned away. Everyone was served safely, and with dignity.
Like many civic organizations, Homes with Hope canceled annual fundraising events, which provide more than a quarter of its operational support.
Yet, says president and CEO Helen McAlinden, “despite the many unknowns that lie ahead, there is one thing of which we are absolutely certain: With the generous support of our community, Homes with Hope will keep sheltering the homeless and feeding the hungry as we always have.
“On behalf of Homes with Hope’s staff, clients, board of directors and volunteers, I extend our best wishes to you and your loved ones during this holiday season and the coming year. We thank you for helping us serve Fairfield County’s most vulnerable members of our community.”
It’s clear: The Gillespie Center is an integral part of Westport life.
The men’s shelter — across from police headquarters, behind the old Restoration Hardware (and before that, Fine Arts Theater) and, most intriguingly, around the corner from Tiffany — opened in April 1989. (For the previous 5 years, it was located at the Vigilant Firehouse on Wilton Road, now OKO restaurant.)
The Center — named after one of the founders, Dr. Jim Gillespie — had been the home of the Youth Adult Council and Westport Transit District. Long before that, it was a garage for the town Highway Department.
For over 30 years, the Gillespie Center has served as a shelter for homeless men. Run by Homes with Hope, the building includes a food pantry and Hoskins Place, a shelter for single women. The name honors Rev. Ted Hoskins, longtime Saugatuck Church pastor.
35 readers — possibly a record — quickly recognized Helen McAlinden’s photo as the Gillespie Center in last week’s Challenge. (Click here to see.)
The number of correct answers — 35 — may be an “06880” Photo Challenge record. So may be the fact that there were no incorrect guesses. What a tribute to Westport’s embrace of the Gillespie Center!
Congratulations to Matt Murray, Pat Porio, Lawrence Zlatkin, Gloria Gouveia, Mike Hibbard, Cindy Zuckerbrod, Ed Gerber, Elaine Marino, Suzanne Raboy, Rich Stein, Amy Schneider, Wendy McKeon, Peggy O’Halloran, Jan Carpenter, Karen Kramer, Pat Farmer, Molly Alger, Barry Cass, Jonathan McClure, Michelle Scher Saunders, Michael Calise, Ken Gilbertie, Seth Braunstein, Joyce Barnhart, Nancy Axthelm, Linda Amos, Gillian Anderson, John Moran, Vivian Rabin, Susan Yules, Tony Giunta, Pete Powell, Darcy Sledge, Joelle Malec and Bruce Salvo.
Can so many people also identify this week’s Photo Challenge? Probably not. It’s tougher.
So here’s a hint: It’s a former town athletic facility. If you know where in Westport you’d find this, click “Comments” below.
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.
The Gillespie Center and Hoskins Place.
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.
Beds, wardrobes, dividers and a new floor in the men’s shelter.
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.
Homes With Hope staff members Lauren Wachnicki and Pat Wilson in the community room. A Westport Woman’s Club grant provided new furniture.
“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.
Posted onApril 25, 2020|Comments Off on Confirmation Class Meets Homelessness, Virtually
COVID-19 has moved more than school classes and church services online.
Confirmation classes — a cross between the two — are now conducted virtually too.
Traditionally, Greens Farms Congregational’s confirmation class has taken a couple of faith adventure/field trips to local ministry partners or community service organizations, to see how they make a difference. They’ve got a long history of supporting Homes with Hope, Bridgeport Rescue Mission, Pivot House in Bridgeport and Norwalk’s Open Door Shelter.
This year, the class planned a trip to the Gillespie Center. They’d bring canned foods, take a tour of the downtown homeless shelter, and meet the clients.
But with everyone isolating at home now, Rev. Dave Stambaugh had to get creative.
He and Helen McAlinden — the president and CEO of Homes with Hope, Gillespie’s umbrella organization — devised a virtual tour.
Helen McAlinden leads a Zoom tour of the Gillespie Center.
With the confirmands and their parents on a Zoom conference, Helen literally walked everyone through the center.
She showed the men’s and women’s living quarters, dining room and food pantry. Helen explained the causes of homelessness, and what happens to clients after they leave the shelter.
The teenagers asked questions: How long does someone stay there? Are any of the clients actually from Westport? How does COVID-19 affect homeless people?
“It was wonderful,” Helen says. “Everyone was very interested. And we had been worried about how to get a young lad in a wheelchair upstairs. This way, he was included with everything we did.”
She was particularly glad to hear one question: “How can we help?” She gave the confirmation class a list of items the pantry needs.
And — in Greens Farms’ spirit of sharing — she adds it here:
The Food Pantry at the Gillespie Center is open! They distribute non-perishables to those in need in the community weekdays (except Wednesdays) from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Their inventory of non-perishables, cleaning supplies and paper goods is running low. Contact-less drop-off of donations is available Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Gillespie Center, behind Restoration Hardware. Click here for a list of needed items.
Anyone needing a prepackaged lunch or dinner can come to the Gillespie center. Meals will be brought outside.
Lunch is from 12 to 1 p.m.; dinner is 5 to 6 p.m., both 7 days a week. All food comes from local restaurants.
We do lunch at 12 noon to 1 pm daily and Dinner 5pm to 6 pm daily. (Both 7 days per week) All food comes from the local restaurants.
Posted onApril 10, 2020|Comments Off on Homes With Hope News: Residents Move; Meal, Pantry Changes Set
It’s hard enough for those of us who own homes, and lead stable lives, to cope with the coronavirus pandemic.
But what about our vulnerable neighbors, like the homeless and those in supportive housing?
Fortunately, Homes with Hope helps.
Quietly, quickly and efficiently, the local non-profit has adapted to the crisis. Recognizing the urgent need to keep residents — plus staff and volunteers — safe, they’ve adjusted all their programs.
It’s not easy. But — following the recommendations of the CDC, state of Connecticut and local health officials — they’ve made big changes.
President and CEO Helen McAlinden — in just her fourth month on the job — reports that all residents have been moved from the 3 shelters (Gillespie Center, Hoskins Place and Project Return) to a local hotel. That provides enough space to practice social distancing.
Program directors and case management staff have relocated to the hotel too. They’re assisting clients 24/7.
Gillespie Center residents have been moved from downtown Westport to a hotel.
Effective this Monday (April 13), the community kitchen volunteer program is suspended. However, Homes with Hope still serves people in need (12 to 1 p.m., and 5 to 6 p.m.). Meals for all community kitchen guests and Gillespie residents will be ordered from local restaurants. That protects community members — and supports local restaurants. Click here, then scroll down for details.
The food pantry will remain open on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, from 1 to 4 p.m., to address the needs of the food insecure. However, a new contact-less drop-off and pick-up procedure has been implemented (click here, then scroll down for details).
In addition, McAlinden reports that Homes with Hope’s supportive housing residents (spread throughout Westport, at several sites) are doing well. Case managers are in daily contact, and staff members drop off non-perishable items as needed.
Finally, school lunches continue to be delivered to children in Homes with Hope’s program.
“These changes will help ensure the safety of our entire community,” McAlinden says.
“However, they require extra resources that we will struggle to obtain. Your support to get us through this time is a tremendous help.”
There are two ways to give: through an online donation (click here), and by donating non-perishable food, cleaning supplies and paper goods. Click here for a list of items needed, and the contactless drop-off directions.
“As always, we appreciate your support,” McAlinden says. “Please stay healthy and safe!”
Comments Off on Homes With Hope News: Residents Move; Meal, Pantry Changes Set
Food Rescue US is one of those no-brainer, easy-to-do, why-didn’t-I-think-of-that ideas that dramatically impacts thousands of lives.
Begun in 2011 in Norwalk, and now operating in 13 states, it addresses an enormous problem: More than 50 million Americans are hungry. Yet we waste more than 40 billion meals each year.
The solution is staggeringly simple. Volunteer drivers bring fresh food that would have been thrown away by restaurants, grocers and other food industry sources in place like Westport, to shelters, kitchens and pantries in cities like Norwalk, Bridgeport and Stamford.
An app enables restaurants and retailers with extra food to request a pick up. Volunteers in the area are immediately pinged.
Almost 1,000 food rescuers in Fairfield County pick up food from 85 donors, and deliver to 80 social service agencies.
Westport ardently supports Food Rescue US. We have dozens of drivers. Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods participate.
Now the Westport Public Schools are involved too.
Elementary teachers Stacey Fowle (Greens Farms) and Ashley Moran (Saugatuck), along with Ben Lahey, assistant director of dining for district food service provider Chartwells, worked with the Staples High, Bedford Middle and Greens Farms and Saugatuck Elementary school cafeterias. All now save unused food.
Beh Lahey of Chartwells and Amber Egervari of Staples High School help load a Food Rescue US volunteer’s car.
Every Thursday, volunteers pick up the food, and bring it to the Gillespie Center downtown. They — and Stacey, Ashley, Ben and everyone else involved in this project — are this week’s Unsung Heroes.
Food Rescue US does great work. But the need is also great.
For more information — including how to volunteer — click here.
ONE MORE COURSE:Joining this week’s Unsung Heroes is Ellen Bowen.
The longtime Westporter has a condo in Miami. A year and a half ago — recognizing the enormous number of large venues like hotels and stadiums in the area — she helped start Food Rescue US there.
South Florida embraced the concept in a big way. They’ve already rescued over 300,000 pounds of food, from places like the Fontainebleau Hotel and after events like the South Beach Wine & Food Festival.
And — oh yeah — Super Bowl LIV.
Immediately following this winter’s big game, Food Rescue US picked up 35,000 pounds of food from hotels, restaurants, markets — even the Super Bowl Experience.
The other day, Helen McAlinden had dinner at Jesup Hall.
Looking out the window of the handsome stone building, she saw the Gillespie Center next door. She marveled that one of Westport’s most popular restaurants shares its parking lot with a homeless shelter.
She asked Jesup Hall’s manager what he thought.
“We love it!” he said. “We’re proud of it. We send food over, and help whenever we can. We wouldn’t have it any other way.”
That made McAlinden proud too.
And it reinforced her belief that the job she’d just begun was the right fit.
Helen McAlinden is the new president and CEO of Homes with Hope. She took over from Jeff Wieser last month, as only the 3rd head in the 36-year history of Westport’s affordable and supportive housing non-profit organization.
In her own way and style, McAlinden is as accomplished and dynamic as her 2 predecessors: Wieser, and Homes with Hope founder Peter Powell.
The only 3 CEOs in Homes with Hope’s 36-year history. From left: Peter Powell, Helen McAlinden, Jeff Wieser.
The daughter of a coal miner, she emigrated from her native Ireland to the US right after high school.
Following stints as a babysitter and eldercare worker, she earned a business degree from Manhattan College. The next step was Wall Street.
But after 9/11, McAlinden felt compelled to do something different. She’d already been feeding homeless people through Irish centers in the Bronx and Yonkers. Inspired by the memory of her uncle — a US servicemember, but not an American citizen, who was killed in the Korean War — she also worked with homeless veterans.
McAlinden left Wall Street, earned a master’s in social work at Fordham University, then spent 18 years at a Bridgeport supportive housing agency.
She knew Wieser through his work on affordable housing initiatives. When she heard he was retiring, she applied. The process took nearly a year.
But Homes with Hope’s thoroughness paid off. She is the perfect person for this extremely important post.
Her first month has been a whirlwind of learning — about programs, people, and the town. But, she says, “This doesn’t feel like a job. It’s something I’ve always loved: dealing with homelessness in a professional way.”
At the end of the day she leaves her Richmondville Avenue office, and heads to the Gillespie Center. She meets “the lovely people who reside there, getting ready for the next step, and all the generous volunteers.”
She is very impressed by Westport’s embrace of Homes with Hope.
“So many affluent communities think there is no homelessness there,” she says. “But people struggle everywhere. We have a shelter right behind Tiffany. Westporters recognize that. And they go out of their way to help.”
On Saturday, for example, McAlinden spent hours with the Sunrise Rotary Club, at a table outside Stop & Shop.
“Many people bought one thing for themselves, then came outside to Rotary Sunrise volunteers with a big bag of groceries for the food pantry,” she says. “Amazing!”
Westporters also help with their time, energy, clothes — and money.
“We get very few federal and state dollars,” McAlinden notes. “The people in this town keep our operations going.”
Many involve their own children. “It seems they want their kids to learn about doing good. They see their parents are giving, kind people.”
Helen McAlinden (far left) at the Gillespie Center with (from left) Allyson Gottlieb, Ian O’Malley, both Homes With Hope board members, and Kathy Knapp, Steve Knapp and Emma Knapp of Christ & Holy Trinity Church, who served dinner. (Photo/Ted Horowitz)
The CEO has been impressed too with Westporters’ embrace of her. Wieser — who stayed on an extra month to help with the transition — shepherded her from meeting to meeting, introducing her to everyone in his vast network.
The other day, she met Police Chief Foti Koskinas. “He’s a lovely man,” she observes. “He talked about the importance of treating everyone with respect. Along with the fire department and EMS, everyone wants to work together. There’s a real sense that everyone in town can help get someone back on track.”
Wherever she goes, McAlinden has been made to feel — well, at home.
Now, she turns her attention to the future. As well respected as Homes with Hope is she senses that many newcomers to Westport — young moms and dads, with little kids — don’t know about Project Return (for young women in crisis), Bacharach Community (for mothers with children), and other programs and sites.
Even the Gillespie Center men’s shelter may be “a hidden secret” to them, she says.
The new leader will use social media to reach these new residents. She wants to offer tours to interested groups. “Community organizations, PTAs — anyone can contact me!” she says. (Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.)
In her few off hours, McAlinden spends time with her husband and 16-year-old daughter. She enjoys visiting her mother and family on their sheep and cattle farm, back in Ireland.
In fact, she laughs, Westporters are not much different from the Irish. Both groups are “welcoming and inviting.”
And wherever she is — Ireland or Westport, the Homes with Hope office or Gillespie Center — Helen McAlinden feels at home.
And to help those whose holidays may otherwise be less than joyful.
Eileen Daignault — director of Westport’s Department of Human Services — offers these ideas:
You and your family can ring the Salvation Army bell, December 14 at the Westport or Fairfield Stop & Shop. This date and these locations directly benefit Westport residents in need. To help, click here.
You can also deliver a meal to homebound residents on Christmas or New Year’s Day.
Brighten someone’s day by delivering a Christmas or New Year’s Day meal.
Volunteers meet at the Sherwood Diner mid-morning to pick up their food and route. They head to the home of the resident, knock on the door and offer the meal. Some residents even invite you in for a few minutes.
Volunteers deliver 1 to 4 meals. Families and friends can deliver together. To help out on one or both days, click here. For more information, email email@example.com.
Human Services’ Holiday Giving Program is also in full swing. Last year, 412 people — including 229 children — were helped by this effort. To purchase gifts or gift cards, or donate cash, click here, then scroll down). For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meanwhile, Westporter Joel Treisman and his daughters have initiated a winter clothing drive. They are collecting new and gently used adult winter gloves, hats and scarves for the Gillespie Center. Overflow items will go to nearby shelters.
Collection bins have been placed at Westport F-45 Team Training, 222 Post Road West (5:15 a.m. to 11 a.m., 3:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.); Steven Mancini Salon, 180 Post Road East (business hours, Tuesday through Friday) and JoyRide Cycling, 1200 Post Road East (weekday and and weekend mornings; weekday evenings).
Joel Treisman, JoyRide’s Michaela Conlon, and a collection bin.
I was at the Gillespie Center community kitchen the other night. I often go at 5 p.m. to thank the volunteers. This generous group of Westporters and Westonites has served dinner there every night since 1989.
I went this time especially because Dolores (“DoDo”) Bacharach was serving with her friends from Assumption Church. She’s done that every month, since she and others formed the community kitchen in Save the Children’s offices around 1983.
It got me thinking that DoDo has done this community service quietly and loyally for all these years — and so have 500 or so volunteers every year since the kitchen started.
Generous family teams, groups of friends and business colleagues, groups from houses of worship and local clubs — all contribute their time, cooking expertise, and the food to serve 20-30 people every night.
Not only do they not ask for thanks, they usually enter and leave the Gillespie Center noticed only by those grateful souls whom they feed. Yet the diners are appreciative. DoDo once said that she loved cooking at Gillespie because “everyone is far more grateful than my family ever was!”
Assumption Church “Ladies of the Ladle” volunteers (from left): Michele Harding, Mary Welsch-Lehman, Katya Lebrija, Marilyn Moran, Dolores Bacharach.
Westport is unique among Fairfield County suburbs in having this sort of facility. Shelter residents get the chance to interact with caring neighbors, and local residents can teach our children and friends that this is not just a bubble of privilege in an enormously blessed community.
These Unsung Heroes — those 500 volunteers every year — quietly show a commitment to social justice and support of our neighbors that should be applauded.
We don’t get many chances: For the few volunteer appreciation events we’ve had, the turnout was light. Our volunteers don’t ask for thanks; they simply want to do what is right for some disadvantaged neighbors.
Chef Cecily Gans’ students prepare food for the Gillespie Center.
So I nominate volunteers from the following organizations who serve dinner at least monthly at Gillespie:
Staples High School culinary classes
The Service League of Boys (“SLOBs”)
National Charity League
Staples High National Honor Society
Elayne Prince & Friends
John Karrel & Friends
Wilton Friends Congregation
Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church
Greens Farms Congregational Church
The Conservative Synagogue
United Methodist Church
Unitarian Church Youth Group
Saugatuck Congregational Church
Sunrise Rotary Club
Peter’s Weston Market
Zeta Phi Beta Sorority
Westport Rotary Club
Westport Young Woman’s League
Weston Kiwanis Club
… and all the families and friends who fill in throughout the year.
Westporters of all ages volunteer at the Gillespie Center.
Jeff Wieser — longtime president and CEO of Homes with Hope — will retire from the multi-purpose housing organization by the end of 2019. Board chair John Walsh announced the news today.
In his 9 years as director, Wieser has been a driving force for HwH. During his tenure he has overseen operations at the Gillespie Center and the Bacharach Community. He also expanded the portfolio of 44 supportive housing units, which the agency owns and operates.
Homes with Hope more than doubled its shelter capacity, providing beds for 115 people each night. And Wieser introduced an after-school mentoring program for the 30 children in HwH facilities.
In addition, Wieser led the merger with Project Return, the housing program for young women ages 18 to 24.
Wieser has helped Homes with Hope become a national role model, demonstrating how a suburban town can effectively respond to homelessness.
“Jeff has been a transformative, innovative leader” in the fight against homelessness, Walsh said.
“He is also a powerful advocate for the homeless beyond our community in his roles in Opening Doors of Fairfield County and as board chair of Supportive Housing Works, a regional collaborative whose mission is to end chronic homelessness in Fairfield County.”
Westporters of all ages volunteer at the Gillespie Center.
Westport 1st Selectman Jim Marpe called Homes with Hope “one of the community services that makes Westport so special.” He noted that under Wieser’s leadership, the organization has “expanded its affordable, supportive housing options, its relationships with other not-for-profit agencies and its overall community support.”
“As a local resident, Jeff saw the opportunity to leverage his business and professional experience with his passion for helping others, and has helped make Homes with Hope even better than he found it,” Marpe added. “On behalf of the town of Westport, I want to thank Jeff for his untiring service to our community and wish him well in the next chapter of his life.”
Wieser will stay in his position until a replacement is found. A search committee will focus on finding a local leader who understands both Westport and Fairfield County.
“Being involved with Homes with Hope over the last 30 years, first on the board and then as executive director, has been the most satisfying professional role of my life,” said Wieser.
“It is easy to be proud of the Homes with Hope organization, and it is easier to be proud of the community that supports HwH so spiritually and generously. I look forward to staying involved in any way that I can be useful to Homes with Hope and Westport.”
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