By J. Gregory Gerdel
While most residents of Central Vermont had refuge in their homes or apartments from this winter’s persistent cold and snow, people who are homeless have found warmth, food, and shelter through the collaborative efforts of several churches and nonprofit organizations. The Good Samaritan Haven has been at the heart of this collaboration.
The Good Samaritan Haven coordinates shelter and meals in Montpelier and Barre with several churches. This year was the second winter that Bethany Church hosted homeless guests in the 20-bed pop-up facility in Fellowship Hall from mid-November through mid-April.
Good Samaritan Haven, or as staff and guests call it, “Good Sam,” is Central Vermont’s primary service organization for the homeless, providing housing and support services for people experiencing homelessness in our community. But it’s clear from every staff member interviewed that the community support from churches, volunteers, and generous donations are vital to the program. “Donations from the community support about 30 percent of our budget,” said Interim Director Patrick Donegan.
Community Support is Essential
In addition to the overnight shelter at Bethany Church, other churches have been providing lunches and warming shelter during the early evenings on a rotating basis each weekday: the Unitarian Church of Montpelier, Trinity Methodist, Christ Church, and St. Augustine’s Catholic Church. The pastors and members of each congregation coordinate food preparation, as do volunteers from the Old Meeting House in East Montpelier.
Contributions of non-perishable food and snacks, items for personal hygiene, financial gifts, and volunteer time assisting with food preparation are greatly appreciated by both staff members and guests. Community support for a fall fundraiser to benefit Good Sam has been strong the past two years. This year’s event is being planned for late September, with the final date to be determined, according to Donegan.
Toward Housing Stability
While shelter from the cold and provision for meals is the starting point Good Sam provides guests, the program’s mission is to help homeless people connect with the resources they need, including safety from situations of domestic violence, getting proper identification, mental health or substance abuse counseling, job training, and finding employment. To those ends, Good Sam maintains continuous collaboration with many other service organizations: Another Way on Barre Street, which provides a facility during the daytime; Capstone; the Vermont Food Bank; the Salvation Army; and the Beth Jacob Synagogue.
Tyler Weedon has been the overnight coordinator at Bethany Church for both winters the shelter has been operating. Weeden grew up in Montpelier and returned to his hometown after graduating from Bennington College. He loves his job and greatly appreciates that the community has provided so much support, particularly those who have volunteered time at the shelter.
Judi Joy, who is the Barre-based shelter and volunteer manager, put it this way: “Everyone who has done overnights has found it to be a game changer for themselves. Getting to know others involves a sense of family.” As she approaches five years of working at Good Sam, Joy notes that the job she loves is “not very easy, but it’s wonderful.”
Good Sam’s Additional Services
Good Sam also provides winter shelter and breakfasts at Hedding United Methodist Church in Barre. The Haven Shelter on Seminary Street in Barre provides 30 beds year-round for homeless people participating in a transitional, 90-day program designed to assist with finding jobs and moving to stable housing. Typically, the Haven serves 250 homeless guests each year.
The NeSt facility in Montpelier also works through the 90-day program, but is a step-up situation for guests who typically have employment and are closer to managing stable housing on their own. The building has three apartments and a total of 11 beds. While residents live there rent free, they provide and prepare their own meals. NeSt also has an overnight supervisor, who is a resource for the guests.
For more information about Good Sam or how to volunteer, visit goodsamaritanhaven.org or call (802) 479-2294. For donations, the mailing address is Good Samaritan Haven, P.O Box 1104, Barre, VT 05641