Select Board to consider grant for Groundworks

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BRATTLEBORO — Groundworks Collaborative has hopes of closing a "significant budget gap" for the seasonal overflow shelter set to open at a new location this month, according to a letter to the Select Board.

"The total budget for the new location [Winston Prouty Center for Child and Family Development, formerly the Austine School for the Deaf] with the new staffing model is just over $200,000 for the season," Groundworks Collaborative Executive Director Josh Davis wrote to the board. "This is a significant increase over the $41,000 we received to operate the shelter in 2016-17. Even with the increase in expenditures, the per-bed cost is a modest $32 per night."

His group has already secured $167,500 from the Vermont Office of Economic Opportunity, several donors and grant sources such as the Thompson Trust, Ben & Jerry's Foundation and Vermont Community Foundation. Being about $36,000 short of its goal, Groundworks will be asking the Select Board for a $10,000 grant Tuesday from the town's program income, which originates from the Vermont Community Development Block Grant program. That funding with other potential grants "will allow us to close the budgetary shortfall, open on schedule and stay open throughout the entire six-month season," Davis wrote.

Due to voting on the Act 46 school merger, the Select Board meeting will be held at 6:15 p.m. in the Brooks Memorial Library Meeting Room.

Previously, the seasonal overflow shelter had been located at the First Baptist Church in downtown Brattleboro. The church was sold last fall, sending Groundworks in search of another site.

The rising number of clients and intensity of needs over the last couple years were cited as reasons behind the new model of operation. Having mostly volunteers supervise the site was "no longer safe nor sustainable to operate," Davis wrote.

Last winter, 154 unique individuals were served at the shelter. That made it "the highest utilized seasonal shelter in the state," according to Davis.

"The shelter operated over its 20-bed capacity on 43 percent of the nights it was open," Davis wrote, adding that a dormitory on the Winston Prouty campus "is set up for congregate living and will allow for better separation of shelter guests, an increase of beds from 20 to 33, multiple bathrooms with showers and private space for connecting with services. Staffing will include two full-time and six part-time employees. This will allow us to have two staff per shift and two shifts per night."

Diversity and equity

Also on Tuesday, the Select Board will receive an update on recommendations for diversity, inclusion and equity actions approved in September.

"I urge the Select Board to adopt this updated and expanded set of actions as a statement of the town's intent to be actively engaged in this work going forward," Town Manager Peter Elwell wrote to the board on Nov. 1. "Some actions require only our sincere and sustained commitment. Others require financial and other resources that may affect their timing or even their feasibility. However, I believe stating our official support for all of them is an important part of providing governmental leadership in the long-term effort to ensure social equity for all people in our increasingly diverse community."

Training efforts are expected to include the Select Board and all town employees to "ensure a safe, inclusive and equitable working environment for town employees," according to Elwell's memo. Educational sessions on implicit/unconscious bias will be held next year with similar workshops later on.

For recruitment, the town will work to "ensure job descriptions and advertisements use inclusive language." The town will "conduct broad outreach during external recruitment for vacant positions by direct town action, and sustaining and expanding" its Employment Recruitment Outreach Network. Also, the town will "use targeted recruitment to obtain diverse applicant pools for some positions."

Hiring a human resources professional is another part of the plan. Elwell said the position is needed for an organization of the town's size and that person would help improve recruitment practices, increase and improve training programs, and reinforce the town's commitment to "a safe and welcoming workplace."

For action under "Visibly Support Social Equity in All of Our Work," Elwell wrote, "Be mindful of the equity and inclusion impacts (positive and negative) of all our decisions and actions."

Other efforts will involve seeking more collaboration between the town and schools, holding more events "to promote understanding and progress" and finding ways to support organizations that improve inclusiveness and equity for marginalized groups in the community.

A second reading and public hearing for the ban on single-use plastic bags is scheduled for Tuesday night. A "status report" on the community survey regarding downtown Brattleboro and panhandling is also on the agenda.

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com, at @CMaysBR on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.

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