As the holidays approach, we have remarked on the somewhat unique perspective we share in seeing the benefits of a calm and tranquil life. Few of the people we deal with ever experience such a life.

We operate homeless shelters in Stamford and Westport, among a host of other homeless services. They are different buildings but in many ways the same. Our neighborhoods are different, but the same. Our clients are different, but in their battles with mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse, they are the same. Among the challenges our clients share is the struggle to find affordable housing in this blessed area of the world in which we live. In short: rents are too high and it is a challenge to find a job that pays a living-wage, enough to cover the rent and other life expenses.

In American neighborhoods where this fact pattern exists, the response is typically: “Let the government take care of it.” Homelessness is funded primarily through government programs, and these programs, along with independent providers of homelessness services, are doing a pretty good job of dealing with chronic homelessness. Our local collaborative, Opening Doors of Fairfield County, is working hard to END chronic homelessness by December 2016.

However, there is little foundation money being used to solve the problem of unaffordable rents, and that is a big hole in the fight against homelessness. One entity bucking this trend is the Barbara Benton Davis Fund at Fairfield County’s Community Foundation (FCCF). We were recently awarded a third-year grant to provide small, often critical rent subsidies to formerly homeless working families whose income is not enough to cover Fairfield County rents. This genius of the grant is its flexibility. In addition to allowing for small, but highly effective subsidies that offset the rents, funding can be used to provide security deposits or down payments that other programs do not cover and/or families cannot afford even when they can afford monthly rental payments once housed. Additionally, the grant allows us to deploy funds quickly before lower-priced apartments are snapped up by others. In its first two years, the program at our two agencies reached a total of 41 families (well over 100 people) who were homeless, but today are living in safe, suitable and affordable permanent housing.

These families would perhaps still be in shelters or, worse yet, on the streets if it were not for this grant, and it would not have occurred without the strategic coordination of policy and philanthropic goals of the Barbara Benton Davis Fund and the direction of FCCF. We are honored to be recipients of support from the Davis Fund and FCCF. Our joint effort is a model of collaboration at its finest; a partnership that is producing strong results and creating happy holidays for a large number of families who have had few happy holidays in the recent past.

Jeff Wieser

President and CEO,

Homes with Hope, Westport

Jason Shaplen

Executive director,

Inspirica, Stamford