The board and staff of the Immaculate Conception Shelter & Housing Corp. are supportive of the Spanish American Merchants Association in its efforts to revitalize the Park Street neighborhood. We are willing to move the Immaculate Conception Shelter provided that we can find a location that will prove to ultimately be in the best interest of those we serve.
The shelter, on the corner of Park and Hungerford streets, has provided emergency shelter and supportive services to homeless individuals in Hartford for more than 20 years. The shelter was founded in 1981 in response to the death of a homeless man found near the steps of what was then Immaculate Conception Church.
Over the years, we have developed a comprehensive continuum of care for individuals who are homeless that includes street outreach, emergency shelter, intensive case-management services, employment training, education and supportive housing. We serve some 1,000 individuals a year. At the Immaculate, many of Hartford's sickest and most underserved residents are able to obtain services that help them improve their lives and elevate their hopes for the future.
Most of the individuals served by the Immaculate are undereducated and very poor. Many have serious mental or physical health problems and are estranged from their families. A majority of clients suffer from long-term drug or alcohol-abuse problems. Many of these individuals are HIV-positive or at risk of contracting AIDS. Nearly half of those we serve are Latinos who identify the Frog Hollow neighborhood as their community.
Last month, shelter management and board members met with representatives of SAMA and state Sen. John Fonfara of Hartford to address the concerns raised by the merchants and to begin developing plans for our organization to move to a location where we can continue to provide essential services to a very vulnerable population of people.
We share the hopes of our clients and business colleagues on Park Street that supportive housing will one day replace emergency shelters. These successful programs focus attention on the root causes of homelessness, transforming people's lives through housing, the teaching of life skills and employment programs.
Every individual we serve has a dream of climbing out of homelessness. It is not easy to stay at a homeless shelter. It is not easy to change direction in life and begin to climb with hope toward recovery. The supports need to be many, and they need to be steadfast and strong.
As the merchants and others work to revitalize Park Street, it is critically important to place equal importance on the revitalization of the lives of the poor people in the neighborhood. We are committed to that end.
Patti White is executive director of the Immaculate Conception Shelter & Housing Corp.