Tag Archives: Hoskins Place

There’s Nothing Funny About Homelessness. Except On October 15.

As Connecticut’s housing crisis worsens — buffeted by the perfect storm of an economic downturn, rising rents and decreased stocks of affordable units — Homes with Hope becomes more important than ever.

For nearly 40 years the non-profit (originally the Interfaith Housing Association) has provided area residents with emergency shelter, supportive housing, a community kitchen and food pantry, and much more.

It offers beds for men and women downtown, in the shadow of Tiffany. There are also small individual and group homes throughout Westport — unobtrusive yet critical housing at a time when the need for affordable units is critical.

The Gillespie Center is a few feet away from Tiffany. (Photo/June Rose Whittaker)

Since 1983, Westport — town officials, other non-profits and countless individuals — has supported Homes with Hope. That support continues.

A $1 million renovation of Gillespie Center and Hoskins Place — nestled next to Barnes & Noble, Walrus Alley and Don Memo — will add security measures, insulation, and air conditioning for volunteers in the food pantry (plus refrigeration, for perishable goods).

Plans are moving now through the permitting process. The target date for construction is early next year.

Not far away, on Compo Road North next the Little League fields and tennis courts, Project Return will transition from an emergency shelter to supportive housing for young women ages 18 to 24. With longer stays they’ll be able to access more services, including education, jobs and social work.

If approved by town bodies, 6 units will be added to Westport’s overall affordable housing stock.

Project Return’s “Susie’s House,” on North Compo Road.

All of Homes with Hope’s work — which goes on 24/7/365 — costs money. Exactly 2/3 of their budget comes from donations.

Which is why “Stand Up for Comedy” — the annual fundraiser — is so crucial.

This year’s event is October 15 (8:30 p.m., Fairfield University Quick Center). Pat McGann headlines the comedy special. The Chicago-based comic has performed at Madison Square Garden, Gilda’s LaughFest, the Great American Comedy Festival, the Nashville Comedy Fest and Montreal’s Just for Laughs Festival.

He’s been on the Late Show with David Letterman — twice — and the Late Show with Stephen Colbert. His riffs on his wife, kids and marriage were spot on.

After a COVID-canceled 2020 event and a Westport Library hybrid version last year, Homes with Hope executive director Helen McAlinden, and event co-chairs Allyson Gottlieb and Becky Martin, are thrilled to be back at the Quick Center.

“This is a great opportunity to be together, laugh and support a very important cause,” McAlinden says.

The laughter pays off. Last year, Homes with Hope served 951 different people: men and women at the shelters; individuals and families in 8 other housing programs; children in after-school programs, and the community kitchen and food pantry.

The non-profit also covers, on an as-needed basis, costs like security deposits, or first and last month’s rent, for clients moving into their own rental places.

McAlinden notes that in this part of Fairfield County, people need to earn $38.50 an hour to afford a studio or 1-bedroom apartment. Connecticut’s minimum wage is $14, so even 2 full-time jobs would not cover that.

“There’s nothing more meaningful than helping someone get on their feet, and plant roots,” says Gottlieb.

She and Martin hope many Westporters will get on their own feet too, on October 15 too — to stand up for both comedy, and Homes with Hope.

(For tickets and more information on “An Evening of Comedy with Pat McGann,” click here.) 

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Photo Challenge #298

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.

(Photo/Werner Liepolt)

Gillespie Center Guests Return Soon

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.