Opinion: As Dorothy Day House in Danbury faces closure, founder offers hope for next stage

Dorothy Day Hospitality House in Danbury.

Dorothy Day Hospitality House in Danbury.

H John Voorhees III / Hearst Connecticut Media

The News-Times announcement of March 4, “Danbury’s Dorothy Day homeless shelter loses appeal, could be forced to shut down,” leaves me, and, I suppose, many others, with very mixed emotions.

As one of the founders of the Dorothy Day House, in Danbury, I am aware of the 38-year span of time when there was no follow-up on requests to the Planning and Zoning Commission to operate the shelter. Neither City of Danbury personnel, nor the volunteer staff members of the Dorothy Day House, have any information as to why the initial permit (for one year) was never renewed. The best guess that anyone seems to have is that such requests were waived within the second year because of the fact that homeless people in the Danbury area needed to be given shelter and that the only ones who were doing this were the volunteers at the Dorothy Day House of Hospitality (a “soup kitchen” to which an emergency housing shelter had been legally added.

I, for one, believe that this is a very rational conclusion. Reason No. 1: For 25 years, I sat across from all of the key players at City Hall at Mayor’s board meetings. At no time was there even one objection to what the volunteers, at the Dorothy Day House, were doing. In fact, there was much support and gratitude unanimously expressed.

No. 2: When the State of Connecticut sent out announcements that grants were available for agencies or communities that were establishing emergency housing shelters, we applied and were offered cots and room dividers, requesting personal information about our guests. Our staff decided against such, respecting each one’s privacy, but received the equipment anyway, as the spokesman for the state remarked: “give them the grant as they are the only one’s doing this work in the area.”

I would like to give praise to Attorney Neil Marcus and to Joe Simons and the terrific volunteers who have attempted to keep the shelter open. I consider the decision by the judge to be bogus as was the reason, stated, by the absentee landlord for contesting the issue in the first place.

Having stated the above in somewhat negative terms, I compare the aforementioned decision to close to a form of death that is always followed by resurrection. When we first opened the shelter (as well as the kitchen,) we prayed that the entire project would, eventually, shut down, i.e., that it would no longer be needed. The problem would be solved. Well, look what has been proposed: the turning of the Super 8 Motel into a permanent shelter run by Pacific House. With the city’s support, this would prove to be a win-win decision, offering shelter residents a number of well-run supportive services. Now, may be the time for all interested parties to join behind Mayor Joe Cavo and bring new life to all.

The Rev. Leo McIlrath, a Sandy Hook resident, is a co-founder of the Dorothy Day Hospitality House.