Open Doors Shelter driven to serve

There are a lot of good things happening in Norwalk, and a lot of great people and organizations are working hard to ensure the progress continues. Open Doors Shelter is one of those.

At Open Doors, our mission is to tackle the complexities of homelessness and those in the community who are trying to get back on their feet, but can’t make ends meet. To do this, Open Doors not only provides shelter for those who don’t have a home but, because homelessness is not a one-dimensional problem, Open Doors also provides myriad other services that meet the needs of all that comes with not having a roof over one’s head. It serves hundreds of thousands of meals a year, provides tutoring for children so they don’t fall behind in school, counseling, job training, healthcare, and subsidized housing. Many of our services, such as our meals and food pantry, and career training, are open to the entire Norwalk community, not just our guests.

Undertaking the elimination of homelessness is tough. Many who are homeless are burdened with medical issues created by rough circumstances. And, as you can imagine, they are resentful about what life has dealt them. And who can blame them.

The people on the frontlines at Open Doors are patient, dedicated workers and their commitment to those they serve and to our overall mission, often under trying circumstances, is commendable. They don’t have to do what they do. They choose to. And day in and day out they make a difference.

And Open Doors is making a dent. We’ve successfully added nearly 50 affordable housing units some of which are multi-bedroom units for families. And we are actively working to increase that number as well as supply supportive apartments for families in the area. The average stay in the shelter has dropped from 225 days to 115 days. That’s a significant decrease and a testament to our hard-working staff and the determination of our guests who are eager to get back on their feet.

We are proud of our just-completed construction and opening of our new Children’s Resource Center that will provide after school programs, tutoring and support services to children in our immediate community.

They say it takes a village to raise a family. Well, it also takes a village to get a non-profit up and running and to be successful. Good leadership, meaningful partnerships, and patient, dedicated workers are the ingredients needed.

Fundraising can be difficult and one bad headline can influence donors. A recent story had that impact, and we are bereft, especially given all our achievements. We aren’t perfect. We know that. But we are constantly learning and striving to do better. We have made significant inroads and done so without burdening the city financially. Seventy-five percent of the funding comes from private donors and the rest if through state and other grants.

If an organization is truly operating under suspicious auspices, then fine, donors can and should pull their support. But Open Doors is not one of those places. It has a diligent, intelligent and mission-oriented group of leaders and staff who are driven by their desire to make their community better. There will always be complainers, but it’s important to have perspective.

Non-profits are about people—those who lead them and those they serve. We are excited about our new Executive Director who will take the helm next week, and have no doubt she has the skills and enthusiasm necessary to lead the shelter into its next chapter.
Ultimately, the goal is to eliminate homelessness in our community. We still have our work cut out for us but we are heading in the right direction. We invite you to come down to the shelter and see for yourself the work we are doing.

Jeff Erdmann is the Chair of the Board of Trustees for Open Doors Shelter.