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After: Gillespie Community Area.

Featured Article

A Better Gillespie

Homes With Hope Renovates, Preparing for Many New Clients

We walked through the newly renovated Gillespie’s men’s dorm. A locker was open. In it was a sweater, t-shirt, pants, and a worn journal laying on the bottom. On a hook was a gold-tone chain with a calligraphed, crystalled Sagittarius charm. Helen McAlinden, CEO of Homes with Hope (HwH) remarked while closing the locker, “All he has in the world is probably in here.”

As you may know, Gillespie is one of the many local shelters run by HwH. The house contains a kitchen, common area, men’s dorm, and a food pantry on the 2nd floor.

During quarantine, community living in the modest home near Jesup Green became impossible: most of the HwH residents are immunocompromised, therefore more susceptible to the sinister side of the pandemic. Separating the individuals was key to ensure they maintained good health. So throughout these long months, while we bought pets and researched Zoom filters, Helen and her staff spent countless hours and minimal resources finding hotel rooms and meals for HwH clients.

Every night since Gillespie’s inception in the ‘80s the beds have been nearly full and the common area invited a steady stream of residents and diners. When the last client left for a hotel, HwH staff looked at the shelter, empty for the first time in 38 years, and felt a resounding “meh.” They promptly applied for grants to overhaul the outdated, worn residence.

With help from Westport’s Department of Housing and Greens Farms Church, donors, and friends, they installed a new floor, placed lockers/wardrobes and new bedding in the dorm, and re-painted the interior in grey and blue to freshen and modernize the space. A grant from the Westport Woman’s Club enabled them to purchase comfortable club chairs, replacing the lumps of torn couches and old chairs.

HwH is planning more improvements: insulating the food pantry and adding heat and air conditioning so it can be used year ‘round and keep the groceries edible, building a separate entrance to allow people access without walking through the common room. For Project Return, a shelter for women 18-24 years old in crisis, they’re renovating the home and adding ensuite bathrooms to each room so clients who need to stay longer may do so.

It’s important to bear in mind why these improvements, while wonderful, are necessary: the need for shelter and food is greater than ever. Yet for a moment we should be proud of what our town, through HwH, has accomplished, and continue to help those who suffer and seek help.

Oh - and to date, Helen can proudly - although she doesn’t do “proudly,” she simply serves clients to the best of her ability - attest that very few of Westport’s HwH clients have tested Covid positive and that its mission, to help people find independent living, remains possible. Helen remarks of her clients, “This is their only home, a temporary home, but it’s a stepping stone for people to move into permanent housing.”

One of these people is Antwayn, who has become a symbol of hope for HwH clients. He’s a former client who now lives a productive life and is reunited with his family. Given the unfortunate increase in food insecurity, HwH hired him to help manage and food from the upstairs pantry and serve community dinners.

So impressed by Antwayn’s dedication and work ethic, they nominated him for the prestigious Reaching Home Awards. These awards celebrate those “that have demonstrated exceptional commitment to preventing and ending homelessness in Connecticut.”

This past May, they learned he had won.

To learn more about the amazing, and critical, work Homes With Hope does for our county, contact:

Helen McAlinden, President & CEO

(475) 225-5292

  • After: Gillespie Community Area with Ana Hitri of Westport Woman's Club.
  • After: Gillespie Community Area.
  • Before: Men's Dorm.
  • Before: Gillespie Community Area with Wendy Epstein, Paris Looney, Lynn Abramson, Lauren Wacknicki- Staff of Homes With Hope.
  • After: Men's Dorm. Coordinated linens are a generous gift from Temple Isreal Synagogue.
  • Before: Men's Dorm with Helen McAlinden, Randy Herbertson, Jacqui Bidgood, Rebecca Mace, Ryan Soto.