DANBURY, CT — There’s a halfway point between living at a homeless shelter and living in your home. For single mothers, that point is a very narrow and slippery ledge.
Amos House in Danbury provides that ledge — the official term is “transitional housing” — for homeless women and their children looking to take that step up from shelter life. The two-floor facility provides them with rooms, a community and a springboard to their next act. Its goal is to see all its residents “graduate” to apartments and jobs of their own.
The program has enjoyed an 80 percent success rate since Lisa Casagrande Koeppel was named executive director three years ago. It’s an achievement made all the more remarkable since the start of Koeppel’s gig coincided with the state pulling all of its funding for the facility.
Amos House wasn’t alone on the hit list. Connecticut ceased providing funding for all transitional housing in July 2017. Since then, all of Amos’ funds has come through grants and donations.
“But we have kept our doors open” Koeppel said. “We are not in the red in any way, shape or form. So, kudos to everyone.”
“Everyone” is not that many people, and they’re all volunteers. Their number has dwindled even more since the coronavirus outbreak.
“People don’t want to come into places where there is communal living,” Koeppel said.
The pandemic has also hurt the group’s fundraising efforts. Their biggest money-making event is an annual breakfast that had to be cancelled this year.
The virus has even impacted the grants. One upon which Amos House had come to rely each year is from the Ridgefield Thrift Shop, and that was not offered in 2020 because the shop, closed by COVID, has no grant money to give.
So, now what?
“I’m applying for grants anywhere and everywhere that I can, but right now it’s not looking very good,” Koeppel told Patch.
She said she is still waiting on $150,000 for renovations promised by the state Department of Housing in a deal struck in the fall of 2019. When it arrives, it will buy a new roof, windows, carpeting, and kitchen. That will at least keep the rain outside, if not necessarily allow Amos House to be as effective as it could be. It won’t pay for staffing on the overnights, for example.
Absent any professional supervision after 7 p.m., Koeppel said she has to raise the bar for whom she accepts, turning away women with a certain history of mental illness.
The bureaucracy doesn’t help, as it rarely does. Once a woman leaves a shelter for Amos House, she is technically no longer homeless in the eyes and databases of the state. She and her children can no longer benefit from any of the corresponding governmental programs.
Two can play the nomenclature game, however, and Koeppel said she is prepared to reinvent Amos House, on paper, from “transitional housing” to “a shelter program.” The key tag amidst all the word smithing is “program,” Koeppel said, as Amos House residents must meet readily with counselors, and they must be willing to work. If they cannot work, they must volunteer because “the goal is to get them back into to the community.”
The program is assisted in this last bit by The Bridge for Independence and Career Opportunities, which provides training and resume writing services.
There’s good news, too. Amos House is huge. The upstairs boasts 14 bedrooms, a playroom, a lounge area, and two communal bathrooms. Downstairs there’s another bedroom — Koeppel is hoping to keep it available for that live-in counselor/”house mom” — three offices, storage and another lounge. Childcare is not part of the Amos House program now, but Koeppel is hoping to start that in the near future, she said. Currently, the facility is home to five women and five children.
The women share no common story arc. Some are mothers fleeing domestic abuse, others were thrown out of their houses by their parents, or by their boyfriends. Most are from the Danbury area, but Amos House has been home to women from as far away as Willimantic.
“I get calls from the prisons and domestic violence shelters from all over the state and New York,” Koeppel said. “Just providing someone a place to live isn’t the only way to make this work. I think you need to give them the support and the skills so they can get out of this, and hopefully prevent the multi-generational aspects of homelessness.”
Amos House is completely independent. There’s no city, state or federal agency that can swoop in and write a check — or shut them down. Koeppel says she is not averse to snuggling beneath the wing of the right agency if it makes the most sense for her clients and their kids. She just hasn’t met the right mama bird yet.
And she doesn’t seem like she’s in any hurry to make a deal. Amos House owns its building, so nobody is going to shutter them if they miss a couple of rent payments. It has “some solid donors,” Koeppel said, but the untapped potential is criminal.
“I want to get it further, where I can get the funding, so I can provide what I know we can do.”
Amos House accepts donations online via its website.
Patch has not provided the address of Amos House as some of its residents are fleeing domestic abuse.
This article originally appeared on the Danbury Patch