Second Wind, a local non-profit providing affordable housing for the homeless population in Tompkins County, plans to finish construction of its first women’s residence in the town of Dryden this summer. The project, a four-unit home, has largely been made possible by the support of community volunteers.
“It was really a community upswell,” said David Shapiro, Second Wind’s current executive director. “A lot of community people came together.”
The site on West Main Street was donated by the owners of Sumo, a local Japanese restaurant, after their house burned down in a fire.
“No one was harmed or hurt, but when they were thinking about rebuilding versus other things, they read about Second Wind and decided to donate the land to us instead,” Shapiro said.
In total, according to Shapiro, about $350,000 was raised for material construction costs, primarily through individual donations, although the Tompkins County Housing Development Fund awarded the organization $120,000.
Second Wind originated in 2012, when founder Carmen Guidi began purchasing campers with his own money for Ithaca’s unhoused population during wintertime. Later, with the help of other community members, he built the first Second Wind cottages in Newfield to accommodate formerly homeless men. There are 18 cottages today, which provide access to television, internet, laundry and water. With these services, individual rent would work out to be around $1,000 a month, according to Shapiro.
However, despite the costs, Shapiro said residents are asked to pay what they can. For the first few months, men in Newfield sometimes live in the cottages for free, while a few residents now make enough to pay around $400 per month.
“It’s not economically sustainable, but it’s because of the goodness of our donors that we can do that,” Shapiro said.
While anyone can apply for housing, Shapiro noted that the organization often picks those with no other options. However, he stressed that deciding who to ultimately support is a difficult endeavor.
“In Newfield recently, we went from 80 people on a waiting list to interviewing 12, [and then] we brought that down to five,” Shapiro said. “Usually [we pick] the person [that] it feels like has no other place to turn. It’s hard to make a final decision.”
Ultimately, Shapiro said Second Wind has long had the goal of providing affordable housing for women, as the Newfield cottages have focused on serving men. The soon-to-be complete women’s home in Dryden will contain two one-bedroom apartments and two two-bedroom apartments, with the goal of accommodating families.
“We’re actually excited with the prospect that we might be able to reunify some moms with their kids,” Shapiro said of the two-bedroom units.
The Dryden residence was conceptualized in the winter of 2021, when Jeremy Huelin ’23, a fifth-year architecture student, developed the project’s architectural plans.
“I probably spent like 60 to 70 hours on it. Which I did for free,” Huelin said. “My goal was to save them as many billable hours as possible. …I did everything I could, up until what you need a license for.”
In October, Second Wind broke ground with a stamp of approval on Huelin’s drawings. Volunteers from nearby neighborhoods and students have been assisting with the construction of the housing project.
Kaitlin Kelly ’25 first became involved with Second Wind through Cru Cornell’s service team, a Christian ministry on campus that has long been involved with the non-profit. She helped to lay out styrofoam for the foundation, put in windows and assist with framing.
Shapiro also highlighted the work of Dave Plumeau, a retired engineer who has been working on site almost every day.
“He’s just a retired guy with a giant heart,” Shapiro said. “He enjoys learning from people with a lot of skill and coaching college kids that come to volunteer.”
In addition to its community-centered building process, the house was also designed to structurally support and build community among residents.
“There’s kind of a gradient across the project from public to private space in the hopes that the most appealing spaces will be the [shared] porches,” Huelin said. “I made all the hallways five feet wide. Three feet is the minimum for code. …Just because these are unhoused people who are trying to get their foot back on the ground, I don’t think that means that they don’t deserve a good quality of living.”
Getting the project off the ground was not without its challenges. Huelin emphasized the difficulty of planning the work, given the financial and spatial limitations placed upon him.
“With [a] limited budget, it was really this jigsaw game trying to fit everything together,” Huelin said.
Winter presented other hurdles, such as inclement weather and extreme cold.
“If it snowed [before the roof and windows were put in] you couldn’t necessarily be in the house doing things,” Kelly said.
Shapiro also highlighted projected challenges to come, pointing to the ultimate endeavor of building community at the Dryden residence and helping women residents establish successful paths forward.
The problem of homelessness in Tompkins County is far-reaching, according to Shapiro.
“There are hundreds of people in the area struggling with homelessness or living in a shelter,” Shapiro said. “This number approaches even higher amounts when factoring in couch surfing and other forms of homelessness that are less visible.”
Still, Shapiro emphasized how Second Wind’s emphasis on relationship building, trust and compassion — with the ultimate goal of moving their residents into more traditional forms of housing — has been successful.
“We’re committed to the way we run our program,” Shapiro said. “We’re not just landlords — we’re providing supports that try to help people move forward in whatever way is right for them in their lives.”
For now, in the final stages of construction and with warmer days ahead, Shapiro reflected on his favorite part of working in Dryden alongside countless volunteers.
“[This work] makes you feel good about people and what the human race is capable of,” Shapiro said.
Annina Bradley ’26 is a Sun contributor and can be reached at [email protected]