Food, Shelter and Compassion

Beth El, the only provider of emergency shelter and food services in Milford, helps families, single men and single women in crisis start rebuilding their lives.

Volunteers prepare meals at the Beth El Soup Kitchen. Photo provided by Beth El Center.

Toni Dolan has led the homeless agency Beth El Center for a decade and still routinely meets clients with harrowing stories that she's never imagined.

"Every time I think I've heard it all, I discover that I haven't," says Dolan. "There are no 'homeless people.' These are all people who ended up homeless for one set of reasons or another."

Beth El, the only provider of emergency shelter and food services in Milford is a place where families, single men and single women in crisis receive services to start rebuilding their lives.

Homeless shelters have undergone significant changes in the past five years as federal and state policies have prioritized ending chronic homelessness and veteran's homelessness. In addition to providing temporary shelter, the Beth El center and other agencies are placing clients in permanent housing and providing them services to help keep them there.

At Beth El, this includes financial literacy classes and connections to drug and mental health counselling. Beth El is also part of a new regional system, the Coordinated Access Network. To access a shelter, people experiencing homelessness now call the United Way's 2-1-1 help line to be referred to an open bed.

"It allows us to access and share all of our resources so we can better assist our clients," Dolan says.

Beth El also opens a drop-in warming shelter on cold nights and operates daily soup kitchen and provides food to go.
The food programs are run almost entirely by volunteers. Churches, school groups and other community members sign up to cook meals and stock the shelves. On Mondays, Dolan says, one volunteer who is 100 years old and another who is 97 come in to help.

"People really like to come in and do something hands on and see concrete results. And we couldn't do it without them. We have only one paid staff member."

Beth El was founded in 1981 by a handful of local churches that wanted to do something about the growing number of homeless people showing up on their doorsteps looking for help, according to Dolan. Although the organization is now a non-profit agency, the original churches are still involved and participation has grown to more than 20 houses of worship.

In addition to donations and volunteer support from the faith organizations, Beth El receives funding from the state Dept. of Housing, the City of Milford, Veteran's Administration, and funders such as the United Way and The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven.

The organization also raises money through its annual Spring Gala, which will be held June 3 at the Milford yacht club in 2017.

To learn more about Beth El Center, visit its profile on

Did you know?

Overall, homelessness in Connecticut has dropped by 13 percent since 2007, according to the 2016 Point in Time Count by the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness.

This story is part of the Inspiration Monday story series produced by The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven.