The Interfaith Housing Association (IHA), located in Westport, CT, provides food, shelter and services for homeless residents and people at risk of becoming homeless. IHA has grown dramatically since its inception in 1984, when food and shelter for homeless people were offered in an abandoned firehouse. Today IHA is a nationally recognized model for providing a continuum of care and services for the suburban homeless. Westport is one of only four affluent communities in the country that has shelters for homeless people.
When IHA and other shelters opened in the early 1980s, homelessness was primarily caused by a poor economy and citizens assumed the problem would go away when the economy improved. Instead, homelessness has become an accepted part of life in many communities, however the reasons why people become homeless have changed. A significant percentage of today’s homeless population suffer from chronic mental illnesses, often combined with a history of addiction. In Connecticut, there is a dearth of in-patient treatment services for people with mental illnesses.
When two of the three state mental hospitals and two of the three state addiction treatment facilities were closed they were to have been replaced with community-based programs. Very few programs were actually established – creating a new homeless population. In addition, managed care companies impose severe restrictions on the number of days a patient can receive in-patient hospital services. The result is that people are being released prematurely to the community with no place to go except an emergency shelter. This has resulted in an increased demand for existing services and a need for new programs and services that address the needs of today’s homeless population.
When IHA was incorporated in 1984 it was a largely volunteer program with a two-person staff. It has become a highly professional social service agency with a staff of 24, and the support of nearly 450 volunteers. Shelter is provided for up to 60 people each night, including single men, single women and mothers with children. More than 30,000 meals are served in a year. Programs operate 24 hours a day. Every client receives intensive professional case management services and can participate in the programs listed below:
Homes With Hope is a group of eight permanent housing units for homeless mentally ill adults, individuals and parents with children, who will always need support but have demonstrated the ability to live independently.
Bacharach Community is three small houses that provide emergency shelter for homeless mothers and their children.
Gillespie Center is a shelter for homeless single men.
Hoskins’ Place is a shelter for homeless single women.
Linxweiler House is a 5-bed halfway house for formerly homeless men who are sober and on the road to self -sufficiency.
The Schnurmacher House is a 4-bed halfway house for women in recovery who wish to live in a sober community and who demonstrate a strong desire to change their lives significantly.