Brattleboro overflow shelter to open early this year


BRATTLEBORO -- In the middle of this past summer it became clear that this was going to be an especially tough winter for the homeless in Brattleboro.

Town officials passed a camping ordinance in reaction to a group of activists who were camping on the Common and housing advocates say the Brattleboro Police Department has been using it to remove homeless people from their camping spots around town.

The Vermont Legislature at the end of the 2013 session made changes to how motel vouchers can be used to help the homeless and towns now have fewer options during emergency housing situations.

Ever shrinking federal dollars make it harder to offer assistance when families and individuals find themselves without a place to stay.

And now winter is approaching.

With all of that in the forecast supporters of the Brattleboro Overflow Winter Shelter have decided to open the shelter up one month early this season.

The shelter will open Nov. 3 to help meet what Lise Sparrow, Pastor at Guilford Community Church, called an urgent need to keep people warm and safe.

"It was clear earlier this year that were going to have less funding to help more people," Sparrow said. "It’s already cold at night and the need is there."

Organizers approached church officials in September and the church only decided last week that it would be bale to accommodate the shelter an extra month.

Now, Sparrow said, the rush is on to train volunteers, get food cooked for the daily dinners and get the systems in place for the winter.

The shelter is run entirely by volunteers and is held at the First Baptist Church on Main Street.

This is the seventh year an overflow shelter has been open in Brattleboro.

Volunteers open and close the church daily and remain on hand throughout the night.

Volunteers also prepare the meals.

This year staff from Morningside Shelter and Brattleboro Area Drop In Center are collaborating to help run the program and make sure everyone is safe.

"This is a big change," Sparrow said. "We did not want to make it public until the church was ready and now have to scramble to get everything in place."

The group will hold a volunteer training on Sunday, Oct. 27, from 3 to 4:30 p.m. and on Tuesday, Oct. 29, from 6:30-7:30 p.m.

Volunteers spend six hour shifts at the shelter, from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m. and from 1 a.m. to 7 a.m.

The shelter is organized by a large group of area residents, including spiritual leaders from the Brattleboro Area Interfaith Clergy Association.

Kate Judd, spiritual leader of the Brattleboro Area Jewish Community said the early opening this year has had organizers working extra to get ready, but the broad support the shelter receives from throughout the community has helped make sure that the doors will be open next week.

"It has become an institution," she said. " A lot of people make sure this happens, and it is through that combined effort that we are attempting to meet the need."

For more information on the Brattleboro Overflow Winter Shelter email Lucie Fortier at the Brattleboro Area Drop in Center at or call 802-257-5415.

To volunteer to cook a meal contact Emilie Kornheiser at

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at; or 802-254-2311, ext. 279. You can follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer.


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