Town Grapples With Violent Death Of Homeless Man With AM-Homeless Camp Bjt
WESTPORT, Conn. (AP) _ The murder of a 76-year-old disabled vagrant has forced officials to re- examine the homeless problem in this wealthy New York City bedroom community, whose residents include Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward.
″There was a brutal, brutal tragedy here last week,″ First Selectman Martha S. Hauhuth said Thursday. ″It certainly says, ’Look, Westport is a beautiful town, but we do have problems.‴
Richard Elliott, 76, who was confined to a wheelchair and lived in an alley off Main Street, was beaten Sept. 14 and died the next day in Norwalk Hospital. Elliott, a former Navy photographer with a reputation as a great storyteller, had stubbornly refused to go to the town’s homeless shelter.
Leon Valencia, 26, has been charged with murder. Valencia, who first told police he was from Rome but later said he was from Medellin, Colombia, was being held in lieu of $500,000 bond.
Hauhuth said the town of about 22,000 people, where monthly rents start at about $1,000, ″has come a long way″ in dealing with its homeless problem. The shelter was opened, amid great controversy, on Christmas Eve 1984. The town also has a soup kitchen.
″But this (the murder) has made all of us think even harder,″ Hauhuth said.
Police Chief Ron Malone, who knew Elliott, his wife and two sons, said: ″I think we’re going to spend a lot of time talking about this. Some people are saying we didn’t do enough, or you didn’t do enough. ... There’s a sense of guilt.″
Hauhuth said the town recently conducted a study which found that loneliness and isolation were the biggest problems in this town.
″It’s not only Mr. Elliott on our Main Street ... there are people who are sad who are living in million-dollar homes,″ she said. ″Westport is considered a glitzy, upscale community ... but people can’t forget people in need.″
Hauhuth said the Health & Social Services Committee of the Representative Town Meeting has asked her for a report on what services the town provides for the homeless.
She said she isn’t sure anyone could have done anything for Elliott, described by those who knew him as set in his ways.
″But we’ll look at any recommendations,″ she said. ″We need to look at our needs ... but it has to be all of us, the churches, the schools and the community.″
Penny Lind, chairwoman of the Health & Social Services Committee, said Westport has been a leader among the wealthy Fairfield County towns in acknowledging problems, but said there is more to do.
″It’s not like we can just say, ‘Now we can all go to bed and sleep at night because we’ve established a shelter,‴ she said. ″Is that what the homeless want? Here we have somebody who says ‘Don’t bother me.’ We need to examine other things.″
Carol D’Amora, who runs the shelter, said she doesn’t know why Elliott avoided it. Some say it was because liquor isn’t allowed, others say he refused to pay the $5-per-night fee the shelter requests from those who aren’t on welfare.
D’Amora and the Rev. Mark Pitton of the Saugautuck Congregational Church organized a memorial service for Elliott. Pitton said he never met Elliott but was able to find one of his sons and learn about him. Neither son attended the service. Elliott’s wife died years ago.
Pitton said about 45 people attended at the service, including some homeless and some town officials.
Someone placed a vase of flowers in the alley where Elliot slept and a hand-printed sign that said: ″In memory of Dick Elliott. May he rest in peace with his adored wife in heaven.″