BRATTELBORO >> The last of the families displaced by the fire on Nov. 7 on Valgar Street has now found a place to live, according to Southeastern Vermont Community Action, which worked to resettle the families.
The fire, determined to be the result of arson, initially displaced 45 people from this Windham & Windsor Housing Trust affordable housing development. SEVCA worked closely with WWHT and other local organizations to respond to this crisis, providing intensive services to assist families to find and settle into new apartments. Community members, responding to the appeal for help published in area newspapers, chipped in with donations of money and furniture to assist those impacted by the fire.
Of the seven families whose apartments were unlivable — almost all of whom had children and lived in three-bedroom apartments — only one was able to be moved into an available WWHT unit right away, with the rest having to be sheltered in area motels, many for several weeks. SEVCA worked with each of these families individually to obtain alternative housing; assisted with moving costs; coordinated support from the Red Cross, advocating for all displaced families to get the maximum benefit possible; purchased beds with a $5,000 contribution from the Southeastern Windham COAD (local emergency response coalition) and local donations; provided clothing and furniture vouchers to be used at SEVCA's Good Buy Thrift Stores; helped coordinate local donations to ensure they got to the families that needed them; and connected families to other available resources.
Amanda Bragg's family lost almost everything they owned due to fire and water damage. Amanda, her husband, and their three young children (ages 3, 5, and 9), had to stay in a motel for about a month after the fire, but she says that they are doing much better now that they are housed in a two-bedroom unit at another WWHT development.
She described the outpouring of community support for her family as "overwhelming."
Among the many donations Amanda's family received were clothing and Christmas gifts for her children collected by her daughter's school, the Oak Grove School in Brattleboro. SEVCA coordinated emergency support from the Red Cross, purchased new beds for the whole family, and provided furniture and kitchen essentials from SEVCA's Good Buy Thrift Store.
"SEVCA was there with us right from the start, and they kept in contact with us, making sure that we got everything we needed," said Bragg. "The hearts of the staff there are huge, they make you feel cared for every time they talk to you."
Bragg said she and her family enjoyed Christmas at home and making new, happy memories.
"Even though we faced this horrible tragedy, all the love and support that was wrapped around our family has almost made us feel as if nothing bad has happened," she said. "We needed that, and we are so grateful."
SEVCA's Family Services Director, Pat Burke, said that helping all of the families to start over again depended on successful collaboration among a variety of partners.
"I'm glad that all the families are finally housed and have a home for the holidays. It just demonstrates the good work that community providers can do when they collaborate. I would like to thank my Brattleboro staff for the remarkable coordination and support they provided these families, along with the Windham and Windsor Housing Trust, Westgate Housing, the SWCOAD, and our local furniture store, Emerson's, for working with us to get these folks back into housing and on the path to some sort of normalcy."
Once the destroyed units are re-built, estimated to take at least six months, those displaced will be able to return to Valgar Street. Many families still require support to help rebuild their lives, and SEVCA is still accepting monetary donations from the public, which will continue to be used to meet their basic needs. Checks can be sent to SEVCA at 91 Buck Drive, Westminster, VT 05158, and online donations can be made by clicking the "Donate" button on SEVCA's home page, www.sevca.org. Include a note that indicates the donation is intended for victims of the Valgar Street fire if you wish to designate your donation for this purpose.