By Dianne Richardson
Bethany Congregational Church in Montpelier has decided to host a 20-bed shelter in the basement of the church for homeless men. The program is temporary: it will begin on November 15, 2017 and will end on April 15, 2018.
In the past Economic Services of the Department for Children and Families issued vouchers to people who are homeless. The vouchers could be used for inexpensive hotel rooms when dangerously low temperatures endangered their lives. The Vermont Legislature ended that practice and established a $600,000 grant, making this project and one in the Rutland area possible.
The shelter will be staffed and managed by The Good Samaritan Haven (in Barre) with a half-time clinician from Washington County Mental Health. Brooke Jenkins, Director of the Good Samaritan Haven, said that Central Vermont will receive about half of the grant money; the other half will go to shelter people who are homeless in the Rutland area.
The Montpelier Housing Authority has pledged $5,000 to cover the structural changes to the church. That will include installing a shower and making the entrance near School Street more user friendly.
Another Way (a drop-in center on Barre Street) is extending its hours to provide an evening meal and is contracting with Good Samaritan to conduct intake on the shelter guests. Intake involves a series of questions, informing potential guests of the rules of the shelter, and breathalyzing. The guests will then go over to Bethany Church, enter through the School Street entrance, and set up army cots in Fellowship Hall. The cots and other materials will be stored in the church basement. In the morning, guests will be expected to take down their cots. Laundry will be separated, and items will be returned to the bins provided for storage. The church will store the bins and cots for the guests. The Central Vermont Medical Center has donated their laundry services for this project.
As well as having a Mental Health Clinician available, guests will have access to assistance with finding employment and housing. The Montpelier Police Department will be assisting with two programs that might be of help. They will transport homeless people who are not appropriate for the Shelter to beds at Safe Catch, a program for people who are homeless and wish to seek treatment for substance addiction, or Lighthouse, which is a program (not a lock-up) that provides a safe environment for severely intoxicated homeless persons overnight.
Is there a need for this? Aside from saving the state of Vermont the high cost of renting hotel rooms, no one is totally sure of the need. Although the numbers of people who are homeless in Montpelier is elusive, homeless people can be observed on the streets everyday. How many of them are “couch surfing”, sleeping in Hubbard Park and other wooded areas around town, in Sabin’s Pasture, under bridges, or trespassing to get warm can only be guessed. Certainly, this winter and this program will give us more information.
So how can the community be of help to people who are homeless? Needed items include pillows, deodorant, shaving supplies, shampoo and conditioner, foot powder or spray, new underwear, coffee, creamer, and hot\cold cups. These items may be brought to Bethany Church at 110 Main Street, Montpelier, 9 a.m. to noon (while the office is open).