Norwalk has a serious homeless problem. There are more people in the city's shelter than the number of beds it has. Mayor Richard Moccia believes he has a solution for it. With the help of some power brokers in the area, Moccia has put together the Greater Norwalk Regional Alliance to prevent and end homelessness. At City Hall on Wednesday, Moccia announced the alliance will move forward with its plan to end homelessness in the area.
"I didn't want another plan that was going to go on the shelf somewhere and we say that we all did our good work," said Moccia. "It's not what I had in mind. The cost of homelessness in this country is catastrophic. But the human cost, to the individuals and families, is something you can't put a dollar figure on."
The homeless problem in the city is very real and nobody has a magic wand they can wave to make it disappear. The mayor and his leadership counsel have constructed a 10-year plan that will align non-profit organizations, government entities, and companies from the the private sector. Pepperidge Farms and Stew Leonard's, a pair of high-profile companies and staples of the community, are on board to be "business champions" for the program, providing leadership and their expertise.
"Any effort to help the less fortunate is always a great thing," said Stew Leonard, Jr. "I know there is a lot of headwind to getting something like this going with the homeless in this economy. But there are a lot of people who want to help and we just have to keep recruiting more people."
The Regional Alliance has set the bar high with plans of constructing 250 units of affordable housing which could go a long way towards ending the homeless problem in the city.
"It's a very long process and there are many uncertainties in the future," said Adam Bovilsky, director of Norwalk's Fair Rent and Human Relations Commission. "Even if we get half the housing we're asking for, it would be make an important difference in our community. The work itself is going to be daunting, but I'm certain the outcome is going to be very beneficial to our community."
But the big question is, where is the money coming from to keep this plan from end up on the shelf.
"It's going to come from a variety of sources," said David Kennedy, COO United Way of Coastal Fairfield County. "There is one group in this plan that is in charge of having an eye out for where the funds are, whether its federal or private or housing."
Added Bovilsky,"There is an affordable housing fund that our redevelopment agency runs. They also have grants from the Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) which is HUD funding that comes to every community. We have a fair amount of resources that are not likely to be reduced substantially."
Bill Okwuosa, Executive Director of the Open Door Shelter, who is part of the leadership council but wasn't asked to speak or stand with the mayor, strongly believes Norwalk has to be at the epicenter of the plan and the Regional Alliance.
"Charity begins at home," said Okwuosa. "I fully support this plan but we have to take care of the people at the shelter here first. I believe in this, but everything should start right here in this city."