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Vibrant Advocate For The Homeless, Carol Walter, Dies At 53


December 28, 2012

HARTFORD Carol Walter, the executive director of Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness, was remembered by her friends Friday as a quick-witted, energetic leader and unwavering advocate for the homeless.

Walter, 53, died Thursday after a short battle with lung cancer, friends said.

When Walter became executive director in 2006, friends said, she had landed her dream job. Walter was passionate about creating long-term solutions to homelessness, including permanent housing and supportive services.

"Beyond shelters and short-gap solutions, she was very interested in finding longer-term solutions, particularly in reducing chronic homelessness," said Mercedes Soto, who served on CCEH's board of directors from 2009 to 2012. "She was able to rally an entire spectrum of people to work toward these goals, and worked to get people housed as quickly as possible.

"She was a dynamo. She made a big impact on me and everyone who knew her."

Colleagues at CCEH said Walter presided over "a sea change" in the organization's approach to homelessness, including greater coordination of services among other nonprofits and oversight of the coalition's statewide "point in time" homeless consensus. She also led efforts in rapid re-housing and shelter diversion strategies, they said.

"People often tell me how energetic I am," said Shawn Lang, a longtime friend of Walter. "I tell them, 'go hang around with Carol for a while, she'll make me look like a slug.' She had great passion for her work. Her enthusiasm and her energy and smarts opened a lot of doors."

Prior to her position at CCEH, Walter worked at homeless shelters in New Haven, Hartford and Stamford, friends said. She also worked at the Connecticut AIDS Resource Coalition as a membership services coordinator, where she helped people with AIDS find employment.

Walter was active in her work, sometimes to the point that she couldn't sit still.

"She had more energy than 10 of us," said Dave Martineau, vice president of CCEH's board of directors and a friend of Walter. "She always used to say, 'I have no time. I'm trying to end homelessness.' She gave her whole life to it."

"She was a woman who could never stand still," added Jose Vega, program manager for the McKinney homeless shelter in Hartford, who had worked with Walter. "She was a fighter, and such a strong advocate for this community. She touched so many lives."

Howard Rifkin, executive director of Partnership for Strong Communities, an organization that seeks to end homelessness and create affordable housing opportunities, recalled Walter as "maddening and endearing at the same time." Rifkin collaborated with Walter on several initiatives, including a plan to end chronic homelessness and homelessness among veterans and families with children in Connecticut.

"We're both opinionated people," he said. "She and I would sometimes go at it, but we would always end our meetings with a hug and a laugh."

Rifkin said Walter had "a sense of urgency" about her work.

"She had a deep, deep commitment to [creating] a more equitable and socially just society, and I'm sure that her passion for this work was informed by that," he said.

Outside of work, Walter was an avid theater-goer, friends said. She loved the outdoors, traveling and being near the ocean.

She was also a devoted Mets fan.

"Carol would put a Yankees cap in her freezer to give the Mets good luck," Lang said. "If that didn't work, we'd change the places we were sitting. There were a lot of crazy rituals around baseball games."

Lang said Walter's friends and colleagues would miss the woman who had "a real zest for life."

"Connecticut is a little smaller and a little darker today," she said.

Walter is survived by her wife, Debra Walsh of West Hartford. Information about funeral arrangements was not available Friday.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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