Falls Warming Shelter moves to Westminster

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WESTMINSTER — Members of the Bellows Falls Rotary Club lugged in boxes and put the first coat of paint on the walls.

The Greater Falls Warming Shelter has a new home, just in time for the rude blast of winter weather.

The 10-bed shelter, which opens Nov. 15, will be located adjacent to Mr. G's warehouse on Route 5, less than a mile from Red Light Hill in Bellows Falls. The space previously was home to the offices of Best Septic and before that, the region's adult bookstore.

The new shelter is modern, a network of small carpeted rooms, and the shelter's trademark mural by Springfield artist Jamie Townsend, featuring bluebirds and a large red heart, is in the window.

"We are so grateful to Dave Gorham for offering us this space," said Louise Luring, president of the warming shelter's board. "We have been looking for years for a location on this side of the river, and this spot meets all our requirements," said Luring, who along with Shelley Temple, the board treasurer, was working to set up the shelter Thursday afternoon and decide which room would serve which purpose.

For the past seven years, the warming shelter, which operates from November to April, had been located on Church Street in North Walpole. Prior to that, it was in Bellows Falls and North Westminster, in various locations.

On Thursday afternoon, the shelter was a work in progress. The carpets had already been shampooed once, but Temple said they definitely needed to be done again. The walls will also need a second coat of paint.

An electrician, hired by Mr. G's, was working on various ceiling monitors.

Luring said the location would make their life easier, grant wise, and in other ways since there are two important improvements: the new shelter has sprinklers and also has a shower. Finding a location with fire sprinklers had been a major challenge, Luring said.

Luring and Temple said all the shelter's equipment had been packed up and stored over the spring and summer months to save expenses. Rotary club members helped bring all the equipment from storage, as Luring and Temple were still trying to decide which room would be the women's room and which would house the men. This warming shelter does not accommodate families, Luring said, or couples. Families are sent to motels, she said.

Luring said in the 10 years of running the shelter the vast majority of clients are men - often in their 50s. She said most of the people who used the shelter were local residents and included people who stayed at the shelter regularly, and those passing through the area.

Luring and Temple thanked their former landlords, Aurelius DiBernardo and Leo Howell, for renting to the shelter for the last seven years.


The warming shelter operates on a $40,000 budget, Temple said, with most of the money going for staffing. Deborah Clark of Alstead, N.H., is the shelter's manager.

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The shelter was founded in 2009 when the Brattleboro homeless shelter was no longer able to help folks from northern Windham County, Luring said. In those 10 years, it has helped 350 men and women from Rockingham, Westminster, Athens, Grafton, along with Walpole and North Walpole, N.H., although she said anyone is welcome.

The shelter receives grant funding from the state of Vermont, which funnels federal Office of Economic Opportunity funds to various shelters around the state.

In addition to the Greater Falls shelter, there are shelters in Brattleboro, one in North Springfield, and a large shelter in White River Junction.

The shelter is always in need of volunteers, the two women said, since two people are on duty at all times, from 5:30 p.m. until 7 a.m. Training will be provided for the volunteers, Luring said. A hot meal is provided in the evening, Temple said.

The shelter has several needs: towels and a "good-sized" wall-mountable television. The shelter does not have cable television, but they watch videos.

The shelter always needs paper goods, coffee, socks, gloves, hats, coats and boots, Temple and Luring said. And folding or stackable chairs, Temple said, looking around the room.

Temple said the hope is to keep the shelter open beyond April 15, since winter weather often lingers beyond mid-April. She and Luring said the 7 a.m. closing is also difficult for the homeless, since Our Place, the Bellows Falls drop-in center, doesn't open until 8 a.m.

The shelter works closely with Our Place, Luring said, along with Southeastern Vermont Community Action, Pathways, Health Care and Rebabilitation Services, and Springfield Supported Housing.

Funding for the shelter comes from the Housing Opportunity Program of the Office of Economic Opportunity, a federally-funded state agency, as well as the Bishop deGoesbriand Appeal for Human Advancement, the Bellows Falls Rotary Club, the Bellows Falls Woman's Club, and corporate donors such as Chroma Technology, as well as individuals in the community, Luring said.

Our Place has a grant to help people find permanent housing, she said.

The shelter plans on holding an open house once it is settled in its new location, Luring said.

Clark, the shelter manager, can be reached at 603-445-7011.

A training session for volunteers will be held Sunday, Nov. 17, at 4 p.m., at the new shelter, she said.

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com.


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