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Taking care of those who take care of others

Doing the right thing for a local nonprofit benefits an entire community during pandemic

Overcoming challenges is nothing new for Columbus House. Since its humble beginnings operating out of a church basement, it has been serving homeless men, women, veterans and families, and those at risk of becoming homeless, by providing food, shelter, and a full continuum of services. The mission? End homelessness (and its causes) and help the transition to personal independence and permanent living arrangements.   

The Moment

When the COVID-19 pandemic forced the government to issue mandatory shutdown and shelter-in-place orders to stop the spread of the infection earlier this year, the leaders at Columbus House faced a more life and death challenge than they had ever faced before.  

“Those early days were fraught with both urgency and fear,” says Margaret Middleton, CEO. “We wondered . . .how can we keep both our team and our clients safe? And how can we possibly motivate our staff to come in during that very hazardous time?”

“We tore apart our silos. It was no longer emergency shelter versus permanent support housing. Instead, it was about getting people housed anywhere. We worked to get people immediately into permanent housing…and moved clients through to that much faster.”

The Response

Indeed, the COVID-19 pandemic created a new reality—and an unprecedented urgency. That’s why working with Webster Bank and receiving funds from the Paycheck Protection Program in the first round truly was a lifeline . . . one that enabled Columbus House not only continue providing vital services to clients but to address the impact of COVID-19 on homeless shelters in the New Haven area and keep people safe.

As one of the 10,000 loans Webster Bank processed in just three weeks(!) of the program, this vital financial assistance ensured that Columbus House could focus on what it needed to focus on:

  • Staffing to 170 employees and paying each one hazard pay for the heroic actions they took to respond and protect their 81 clients, that grew to about 300 men and women during the lockdown.
  • Expanding services to 24/7, offering clients, not one, but three meals a day, plus snacks.
  • Moving 200 clients into a nearby hotel to remove them from the streets where they could be exposed to the virus, and in turn, expose others to it.
  • Avoiding layoffs, furloughs, and payroll deductions of its staff and keeping people employed long after they normally close warming centers.
  • Continuing its mission to solve the shelter-to-shelter cycle for homeless veterans, particularly at its New Haven, Middletown, and Wallingford facilities. 

The Results

“Webster Bank has been a true partner through this process. They understood the position we were in and provided solutions so we could continue our work,” said Middleton.  

Thanks to these efforts—and the loan from the Paycheck Protection—Columbus House did not experience a single case of COVID-19 and kept its clients sufficiently quarantined and communities safe.  

Columbus House client Tim, a veteran, was among those who received services during the pandemic.  

“I felt safe. The staff all worked really hard and they took care of every need that I had,” he remarked. Tim says the continued assistance he receives from Columbus House positively impacts his life, and recently helped him find permanent housing.  

“When I can show my kids that I’m doing good, they are happy. That makes me happy. When I’m happy, I do well,” he says. Tim’s advice for others needing assistance is, “Don’t be afraid to ask for help. It’s out there, the people are great and you’ll get the help you need.”  

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