When Craig Bergamo was a senior at Norwalk High School, he kept the fact that he was homeless to himself. Bergamo, now 28, moved into the Norwalk Emergency Shelter with his mother. During the eight months that he lived in the shelter, both of his parents died. He was also a game captain on the football team, captain of the track team and an honors student.
Bergamo, now a Westport Police Officer, told the story Thursday in support of the Greater Norwalk 10 Year Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness. After 10 months of work from nearly 100 people, the city has released a 72-page document outlining and supporting specific steps to be taken to prevent other children from having an experience such as Bergamo's.
"My story is not unique," Bergamo said. "What is unique is that I survived, even thrived, when most who suffer being homeless do not thrive. For that reason I am grateful that this community has brought out this issue front and center in doing what is necessary to prevent and end homelessness in the greater Norwalk area."
The plan is the first to be released in Connecticut since the federal government released its own strategic plan. "Norwalk is really the first city in New England that has created a plan based on the federal plan," said John O'Brien of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness . "We have an alignment now between Norwalk and the federal strategic plan. This means Norwalk is now really in the forefront and has really put itself in the best possible position to compete for resources to carry out this strategy." He suggested because Norwalks plan will carry out federal strategies, federal agencies would be eager to provide support.
"This is no longer a few people, a few agencies in Norwalk and greater Norwalk trying to prevent and end homelessness," O'Brien added, referring to a coalition that includes business interests, education, library, nonprofits and faith-based organizations. "Norwalk has really stood up and said, 'You know what, we're going to do this together.' This is not just a small group of people. We're all responsible for preventing and ending homelessness."
Bergamo said workers at the Norwalk Open Door Shelter helped him get into Section 8 housing and gain publicity that led to a college scholarship from a generous local man. He became a police officer 4½ years ago, on the anniversary of his mother's death. Now he owns a home in Trumbull and his wife is expecting a baby. "I am lucky to be standing here today and be in the situation that I am," he said. "I will never forget what I have been through and what the Norwalk shelter has done for me. The 10-year plan calls for addressing the issue of homelessness, and I am willing to help reduce homelessness in the area. God willing, this plan will change a lot of lives."
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