Greater Falls Shelter closes a month early

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WESTMINSTER — The Greater Falls Area Warming Shelter closed its doors Saturday morning out of concern for the safety of the people using the shelter and its many volunteers.

The reason, said Louise Luring of Saxtons River and president of the shelter's board, is the coronavirus, which causes COVID-19. She said she was very concerned about the volunteers, many of whom are older or even elderly, and that leaving their homes and coming to the shelter, either to stay with the people at the shelter or to provide food, was an obvious danger.

Luring said Monday that the shelter was able to stay open one more night beyond Friday's initial early closing date. The closing was about a month earlier than the date the warming shelter usually closes after winter. She said the shelter, which has the capacity to shelter 10 people, averaged about six people a night this winter.

Luring said at the time of the closing there were only three people using the shelter — a habitual user of the shelter and a couple. She said the man has stayed at the shelter off and on for years, and is well prepared to camp if necessary.

She said the couple is expecting a baby and that people were working to get the couple a motel room under relaxed rules. She said the couple was already in the process of locating to a permanent home as well.

"We felt the numbers were low enough that we should close," she said, adding, however, that the decision was not unanimous. "Not everyone agreed."

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Deborah Clark, the manager of the shelter, announced its closing Friday morning via email to the network of volunteers. "It is with extreme sadness that I let you know that the Greater Falls Warming Shelter has been forced to close as of today, Fri Mar 20. People's health is too important and in many cases fragile to be compromised at this time," she wrote. "I tried my best and fought the fight til the end trying to have an exception made," she added.

Repeated efforts to reach Clark since Friday were unsuccessful. In her email, she noted that people who had volunteered to make meals and had dishes still at the shelter should be in touch and arrangements will be made to return the items.

"To each and every one of you that has helped in some way during the season, Thank you! The shelter would not be without our valued volunteers," she added. "I pray that each and every one of you stay healthy during this scary time."

Luring estimated the warming shelter, which has operated in the Bellows Falls-Walpole, N.H. area for about 10 years, had about 100 volunteers. She said the people who stayed at the shelter on the late-night shift would lose their stipend, but that they would be eligible for unemployment since the closing was due to COVID-19.

The shelter opened in its new location on Nov. 15, 2019 and expected to be open for five months, until mid-April. It had been located for several years in North Walpole, N.H., but had moved to the location next to Mr. G's warehouse on Route 5, near the Big Red Barn, in November. The new location was sprinklered and had showers for people, Luring said at the time.

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com or at 802 556-2147.


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