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Homes with Hope honors Powell on 30th anniversary

Homes with Hope, the Westport agency that addresses the needs and problems of the homeless, as it marks its 30th annivesary has renamed its Saugatuck Apartments in honor of the Rev. Peter Powell, a former president of the organization.

The apartments, which opened in the late 1990s and provide permanent housing for several families and individuals, will now be known as the Powell Place Apartments.

"I am honored and overwhelmed to be here," Powell told those attending the dedication ceremony Thursday afternoon in the Town Hall auditorium.

He said one of his goals has been to see Homes with Hope prosper and grow. "It has grown in more ways than I could imagine," he said, adding the agency needs to "continue to work to end homelessness."

He said that, over the years, the agency faced "some epic battles, but overall the community has supported our mission."

He said sometimes the group was confronted not only by "not in my backyard," or NIMBY, when attempting to open a shelter or housing, but "BANANA," as one former first selectman nicknamed the attitude, Powell said, defined as: "build absolutely nothing anywhere near anyone."

"Meaning is found in working with the vulnerable," he added. "It doesn't matter how a person got that way, it's how we react to that person."

Powell said two local groups have been instrumental in the agency's growth: the Rotary Club and the Westport-Weston Clergy Association.

He joked that he was surprised the agency would name the apartments after him and pass up "the opportunity to name it after a major donor."

He then asked those attending to "open their wallets" and pledge to increase their annual donation to Homes with Hope.

"I am going to increase my donation by 25 percent," he said. "That's a challenge."

Prior to introducing Powell, Jeff Wieser, the Homes with Hope president and CEO, told the gathering about the group's origins, when it initially was known as the Interfaith Housing Association of Westport and Weston.

The group offically turned 30 on Thursday, Weiser said, "We even have the paper to prove it," pointing to a large screen that displayed the original certificate of incorporation. He said it wasn't long afterward that "we got the shelter going" he said, referring to the first homeless shelter for single men that opened in a town-owned building in 1984.

Since that time the agency has grown to include a number of units of permanent supportive housing for the chronically homeless, as well as a food pantry and community kitchen. Read Full Article 

He said in preparing for the anniversaty event, he began thinking about a "great little book by Miggs Burroughs -- `The What If Book of Questions.' "

"What if we assembled a group of people together today and told them we were going to put a shelter two doors down from Tiffany's" or a number of other locations in town. He said that would be similar to the initial challenges facing the founding members of Homes with Hope.

First Selectman Jim Marpe said that when he volunteered for the agency, "It gave me a whole new way of thinking about my fellow man."

He congratulated Powell for his "tremendous contributions" to Homes with Hope.

Homes with Hope, in its third decade, is an agency with a professional staff and 400 volunteers who deal with homeless individuals and families. Each night, more than 85 people find shelter or housing at one of the agency's facilities.

Anne M. Amato