NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk’s Open Door Shelter is working with the state to combat homelessness in the city, and will be converting an old mill building on Merritt Place into efficiency apartments for homeless individuals.
The SoNo Life Center will be located in a two-story, 18,000 square foot building currently located down the street from the Open Door Shelter at 2 Merrit Place. The first floor will consist of a community health center and a jobs training center, and the second floor will hold 16 efficiency apartments and common spaces.
State Housing Commissioner Evonne Klein toured the shelter and the new site Thursday along with Sen. Bob Duff, Rep. Chris Perone and Mayor Harry Rilling, and met with the Open Door Shelter board and executive director to discuss the project and ways that Connecticut is working to fight homelessness.
“We’re excited to be part of a really collective impact effort,” said Jeannette Archer-Simons, executive director of the Open Door Shelter. “This is about building strong communities. It’s about making sure the people have the services they need and a leg up and a hand up and not just a hand out, and that’s what we do every day. We’re excited to embark on our next stage of life while we still continue to provide social services here every day, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”
Klein said that ending homelessness is a priority for the state. Connecticut has already become the first state to end chronic homelessness for veterans, and aims to end all chronic homelessness by 2016, she said. Since 2011 Connecticut has built 7,000 units of affordable housing, there are another 2,117 under construction and funding has been committed for an additional 5,000 units.
Klein said the state has to work closely with shelters like the Open Door shelter. She said that shelters can’t just be concerned with giving someone a blanket and a cot, but have to be “individual focused and family focused to get folks the right support they need.”
The state has also committed $10 million in shelter improvements around the state, with a focus on shelters that service families.
“What needs to be happening in the state is certainly happening, and it’s certainly paying off with the successes we’re seeing on the ground,” Klein said.
Duff praised the work of Klein and the state, as well as the vision of the SoNo Life Center.
“We can’t grow economically if we don’t have housing for people. We cannot increase the tax base and grow the economy and bring in young people and all the things we want to do without adequate housing for folks,” he said.
Perone said that Open Door addressing all the factors of homelessness is important in eliminating the problem.
“That 360-degree look at this is really innovative and really exciting, and Connecticut is all over it, and I think this board is taking a national leadership role in it,” he said.
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