Friday November 2, 2012

NEAL P. GOSWAMI

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- The Bennington Coalition for the Homeless is looking to open an emergency shelter on North Street to help locals escape the cold.

Executive Director Kendy Skidmore said the 250 North St. location would serve as an emergency shelter that people could utilize without prior planning. The group operates other facilities in and around Bennington that provide shelter and housing for the homeless, but those locations require prior approval.

Skidmore said her organization operated a warming shelter on Depot Street for several months last winter. The new location on North Street would provide a more permanent solution for the homeless during the winter months.

"This would be more permanent. We wouldn't have a new location every winter," she said. "It's in the right spot and I think the building lends itself perfectly for that."

Plans have been submitted to the town, and a permit application with the Development Review Board has been filed. Skidmore the plan will require installation of fire alarm and sprinkler systems inside the building that formerly housed a home health company.

Town Zoning Administrator and Planning Director Daniel Monks said the required information has been filed. The DRB will hold its first hearing on the plans on Nov. 20, he said.

"They seem to have submitted all the required elements. Obviously the board has discretion about whether they're going to approve it or not.


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The neighbors have not been notified yet," Monks said.

Neighbors of the proposed location will have a chance to provide testimony to the DRB at the hearing.

The space sought by the coalition will be different from the other locations in the area, Monks said. "This will be the first one that I know of that will be a true shelter, where people can walk up off the street and get a bed."

Skidmore said the need for such a shelter is apparent, after the group operated a temporary location last winter. And, the state is currently paying area motels for rooms to help those in need find shelter.

The coalition received "significant funds" as start-up capital for the shelter from a church in Shaftsbury, according to Skidmore. The cost of retrofitting the space to transform it into a shelter is expensive, though, she said.

"The requirements for the building are going to eat up those funds," she said.

The coalition will be counting on local residents approving town funding when the coalition appears again on the Town Meeting Day ballot. The shelter, if approved, will be staffed primarily with volunteers and existing staff members, Skidmore said.

"It will be difficult. It will be a challenge. Hopefully we can access some funds from the state," she said.

The building, which the coalition would lease, is currently set up for two apartments and commercial space. Skidmore said it could likely accommodate 12 to 15 people, if needed. "Not that we'll see that," she said. "We were seeing six to eight people a night (last year)."

The coalition already operates 6 Bank Street in North Bennington. That shelter provides living space for families that are in a transition. The Thatcher House in Bennington provides long-term apartments as well as the group's offices. The coalition also rents transitional apartments on McCall Street and Pleasant Street.

Skidmore said the coalition recently opened a shelter on Richville Road in Manchester that can accommodate up to 10 people.