NORTH WALPOLE, N.H. -- There is no time for rest in the world of humanitarianism.
The Greater Falls Warming Shelter’s fifth season of providing a place to sleep to the disadvantaged ended in mid-April, but the organization’s board of directors never stops looking toward the future. Board President Louise Luring said she and her colleagues are in search of a better space for the warming shelter to set up a safe haven for the homeless.
"We are also working closely with Our Place Drop-in Center to find a space we can share because we already share so many resources and clients," she said. "We welcome input from community members who might have suggestions."
The GFWS has had four homes over the past five years, most recently a facility at 23 Church St. in North Walpole. The red building that has served as a church, a tae kwon do studio and a delicatessen is owned by Aurelius DiBernardo, a relative of board member Ann DiBernardo, and Leo Howell. Luring told the Reformer the facility fits the warming shelter’s purposes but the board wants a place that is located in Vermont and "has more of what we need."
The shelter, which is reachable through its Facebook page or at firstname.lastname@example.org, provides up to 10 homeless people with a safe place to sleep at night during the winter months.
According to Luring, the shelter housed a total of nine women and 31 men for 1,006 bed nights starting from mid-November to April. More than a one-fourth of the guests stayed for only one night, and two-thirds of them stayed for two weeks or less -- and not always consecutively. Two guests were housed more than 100 nights.
"These stats show us that the folks who need emergency housing are in a constant state of flux and find it difficult to make permanent arrangements. They have local connections, but can’t depend on family or friends putting them up consistently. We fill the gap for many of them on a night-to-night basis," Luring said. "Contrary to what is heard in the community, these are not people coming from outside to take advantage of our ‘luxurious’ accommodations. Many of them grew up here or have local connections and family. They want to stay near their families, including children, in some cases. They are sometimes battling alcohol, mental illness, health issues or drug abuse, which makes it hard for their friends and family to accept them into their homes."
In other cases, Luring said, people simply have great difficulty paying rent when unemployment mixes with health issues.
"Most people don’t realize landlords require three months’ rent up-front," she said. "That could be more than $2,000."
Luring told the Reformer the GFWS was, in the spring, awarded a $13,000 Emergency Services grant from the Vermont Department for Children and Families’ Office of Economic Opportunity to help it meet its $39,000 yearly budget. The balance of its funds comes from personal and business donations and fundraisers. Luring said the shelter is now generating funds by selling notecards that feature a detail from a transportable mural created by artist Jamie Townsend and the youth of the First Universalist Parish of Chester, Vt. The mural is in storage now, she said.
The shelter was first based on Canal Street in Bellows Falls, Vt., before moving to three apartments in Gageville and then relocating to in the basement of Athens Pizza House Inc. in Bellows Falls for a year.
Domenic Poli can be reached at email@example.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.