Betsey Hall T’84 puts values into action.
Elizabeth Hall makes it sound easy. She’s standing on a grassy verge overlooking an expansive low-rise apartment complex in Morris Township and remembers when the site was nothing but a tangle of weeds. “I was here with Peter Simon, and I turned to him and said, ‘I want to build affordable housing, and I need $2 million to do it. Will you help me?’” Simon, co-chairman of the nonprofit William E. Simon Foundation, acceded, and, says Hall, “we raised the money and built those lovely buildings in this lovely setting.” Today, the complex houses 15 low-income families who, if it weren’t for Hall, might have no home at all.
Of course, building affordable housing and providing shelter for the homeless is anything but easy, and Hall–an ordained Presbyterian minister and the president and CEO of Homeless Solutions, Inc. (HSI), who’s known by everyone simply as Betsey–would be the first person to tell you that. Sixteen years ago, she left a parish ministry in West Seneca, N.Y., to take the helm of a small and struggling Morristown homeless shelter, transforming it into a countywide organization with a staff of 49, a volunteer constituent topping 500, and the capacity to shelter 65 men, women, and children. Over the past decade and a half, HSI has expanded from shelter to builder, constructing 79 eco-friendly rental apartments for low-income residents of Morris County.
“Homeless Solutions wouldn’t be what it is today without Betsey–what she’s been able to achieve is amazing,” says Arthur Corwin, vice chair of HSI’s board of trustees. In October, the Theological School Alumni Association is recognizing her many achievements with the Distinguished Service Award.
Hall has always lived her values. When she was 8, she says, she staged a magic show in her bedroom, charging friends a nickel for entry and 10 cents for popcorn and sending the proceeds to the March of Dimes. She still has their letter reading, “Thank you for your contribution of $1.65.” But it was Drew, she says, that nurtured her social conscience. “Drew gave me a philosophy for, and a spiritual understanding of, where my sense of social justice was coming from,” she says, citing in particular Karen Brown’s course in Church and Society that “put a spotlight on inequity and injustice.”
Inequity continues to rankle in Hall. As an executive board member of the nonprofit Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey, she was involved in a lawsuit against New Jersey governor Chris Christie when he attempted to dismantle the state’s public housing agency. Christie lost, but state and federal funding for affordable housing continue to shrink, at a time when homelessness is increasing. Rather than back down, though, Hall is looking ahead. Last year she helped found Furnishing Solutions, a resale shop whose proceeds benefit Homeless Solutions. And HSI has builders agreements with several townships to construct 42 additional apartments as soon as funds are available. Hall isn’t just building homes; she’s building a better world. “I believe,” she says, “that’s what the Gospel is calling us to. If we’re not working on social justice, then what the heck are we doing?”–Leslie Garisto