Columbus House Changing Lives Everyday

By Blake Powers
This year we spent the month of December collecting hats, gloves, socks and underwear to donate to the Columbus House in New Haven, CT. The clothing drive was even more successful than we had hoped. Employees brought in over 160 items! Tom Intelisano and I dropped off these items to the Columbus House on December 7th and were very happy to see that these items would go to immediate use.

After the clothing drive ended we held the 2nd edition of the Watson Shopping Challenge. Watson donated $100 for every 25 clothing items plus a bonus $150 to the challenge. This money was given in $100 increments to 8 shoppers who donated their time to search for the best deals on coats and other accessories. This effort brought in an additional 220 items including 13 coats!

Employees also all helped out by packing toiletry kits on every shift. Employees donated their own time; 5 minutes was enough to pack 10 bags. Packing events took place before shifts, after shifts and at lunch. We packed about 580 toiletry kits with items like shampoo, shaving cream, soap, deodorant, foot care products, tooth brushes, tooth paste and sunscreen.

Many employees have likely never heard of the Columbus House and all the good they do for the community. While delivering items to the Columbus House Tom and I had a chance to see how the facility is run and the huge amount of effort that goes into helping those in need. While visiting on our last trip Columbus House’s Development Manager Kathryn Myler took us on a very thorough tour. This tour was amazing to me. The amount of generosity and passion that goes on at the Columbus House is unlike anything I have ever seen. I wish that everyone could see the enormous amount of work that goes into running the Columbus House, and how tremendous the donations will be for those in need. I hope by sharing some of that information with you it will give you a better understanding of how much your efforts have helped others in the community.

The Columbus House provides a large number of services to homeless people in New Haven and the surrounding area. Services range from a hot meal and a warm bed for one night to complete case management services including medical and psychiatric care, long term housing and job placement. The Columbus House has multiple buildings throughout the New Haven area, including the main building on Ella T Grasso Boulevard in New Haven, three transitional Housing Buildings and four permanent Supportive Housing Buildings. Tom and I visited the main offices, shelter building and annex building.

The first space we visited on our tour is called, the “Annex.” The annex is a smaller building that consists of office space and a small area that provides services to the homeless. The building is open during the day, unlike the main shelter building which mostly provides services at night. The office space is used mainly by case managers and other community outreach personnel. There is also a small entry area and bathroom at the front of the building that allows homeless people to come in out of the cold, take a hot shower and get a fresh pair of socks. This space is also a community outreach area allowing staff to communicate with those in need the services that are available.

The Columbus House has a much larger main building, converted from an abandoned community college that contains much more office space, as well as a full kitchen, dining area, emergency shelter, overflow shelter, showers and intermediate level housing. The emergency shelter located here is for single adults, with a maximum of a 90 day stay. The emergency shelter provides a warm bed for over 80 women and men, 365 nights a year, serving over 78,000 meals annually. The shelter opens every night and closes every morning. Space is limited so people start lining up early for a spot. Beds are assigned by a raffle system. It was amazing for me to think that there are so many people at this shelter every day, seeking only the most basic of necessities. The overflow shelter is for men only; generally it is filled to its 75-bed capacity and beyond. This seasonal shelter serves clients with food, clothing, showers, personal care items and case management services. Like the emergency shelter this shelter provides basic care to people in need.

The Columbus House focuses on trying to get those in need off of the streets and into permanent housing and steady jobs. Multiple housing options are available beyond the emergency and overflow shelters. All of these options require that people pay money or do chores in order to receive a bed or room. People who pay even a small amount of money are much more likely to be successful in a transition to living independently.

Getting a behind the scenes look at the Columbus House operations was an eye opening experience. I’ve never realized the amount of goodwill that takes place on a daily basis. So many people at the Columbus House dedicate their entire lives to helping those in need. We are currently looking at what other ways we may be able to provide support beyond our December Food Drive.