Last Friday volunteers, supporters, and government representatives gathered together to mark the 30th anniversary of the Shelter for the Homeless organization. On July 24, 1985, Shelter for the Homeless officially began operating as a Stamford non-profit homeless shelter organization in response to the area’s visibly homeless population. Today, with an expanded mission and progressive programs, the organization is an innovator in transforming lives, helping clients become more self-sufficient and lead more productive lives by finding them employment and permanent supportive housing.
In the 1980s Stamford was becoming a base for major corporate headquarters, the Stamford Town Center became a retail anchor and construction began for the Stamford Transportation Center. But during that same time, the city felt the effects of a difficulty that was facing the nation: a homeless crisis. An economic decline paired with a mass release of patients from mental health facilities led to a surge in homelessness across the county, and our area was not immune.
A temporary shelter was created in the basement of the First Congregational Church of Stamford, under the direction of church member Steven E. Ayres and the sponsorship of the Council of Churches and Synagogues. Soon it was serving up to 60 people per night, and it became apparent that more robust services and facilities would be needed.
Through the efforts of co-founders Leslie Furst, Maureen Hughes, Pat Phillips, Nancy Stoetzer, and Reverend Gary P. Brown, the Shelter for the Homeless organization was formed, and within five years Pacific House emergency men’s shelter was established.
“When the organization started it was a hot and a cot,” said Executive Director Rafael Pagan, Jr. “The men got a hot meal, a place to sleep, showers and limited case management service. Since then, Shelter for the Homeless has continually recognized and responded to the needs of the homeless in our community, and has expanded its impact to now serve the communities of Stamford, New Canaan, Greenwich, Darien and beyond.”
Today, Pacific House operates daily, 24 hours per day, feeding and housing up to 100 or more men per night. Over the past 30 years, an estimated 1.5 million meals have been served, approximately 900,000 bed-nights have been provided and 300 individuals have graduated from the in-house drug and alcohol recovery program that is run in collaboration with Liberation Programs. An estimated 3,500 clients have secured a job through the Job Readiness program, and through grants to the agency, the Supportive Services for Veteran Families Program has helped hundreds of homeless veterans and their families find permanent housing. The shelter also provides counseling, individual life plans, outreach services, healthcare screenings and referrals, manages eight deeply-affordable homes in Stamford and Norwalk, and by the end of 2017, an anticipated 94 formerly homeless individuals will live in those residences.
At Friday’s celebration, State Senator Carlo Leone thanked the organization for making an impact on homelessness, noting that “this is part of the community effort, showing people working together to help end homelessness and give people a second chance.” Stamford Mayor David Martin echoed those sentiments stating, “Government can’t do it, or do it as well…we have a bureaucratic process for dealing with these things. By definition, that makes the process slow and more costly. But because you know, and you care, you can respond quickly and effectively.” Mayor Martin then made a commitment to help serve meals at Pacific House shelter.
Perhaps the importance of the celebration was summed up in the words of a formerly homeless man named Matthew. “I was beyond despair and figured that coming here was better than a bridge. I have the dream team behind me at Pacific House–they give you a chance to rebuild your life. With my job I’m now a part of the solution of homelessness, and I’ve noticed that once you get back on your feet you want to contribute to society.”
Annually it costs Shelter for the Homeless $1.8 million to combat homelessness throughout the lower Fairfield County community. To learn how you can help, visit ShelterForHomeless.org or call 203-406-0017.