KEITH WHITCOMB JR.
BENNINGTON -- A North Bennington homeless shelter that closed in July because of a bed bug infestation will not be reopened.
But the closure has turned out to be something of a blessing in disguise, said Stacey New, president of the Bennington Coalition for the Homeless' Board of Directors. She said the closure, coupled with a new service hub at an existing shelter, has allowed the coalition to reduce its budget by 35 percent and house more individuals.
New said that 6 Bank St. is owned by the North Bennington Congregational Church, and it will be another two months before it can be considered bed bug free. She said the coalition will make sure it is clean before breaking ties with it. The location was not working for a number of reasons, she said, aside from the bugs. Mainly it was a group home for women and children, and federal and state grants have been shying away from supporting group homes in favor of more sustainable living situations. New said the home was also far from most of the types of services the homeless tend to need, which are mostly in downtown Bennington. After the shelter closed, at least one family was able to spend more time together, as the father had been walking there from downtown on a daily basis. That family is now in a permanent living situation, New said.
Some clients were also turning down placement at 6 Bank Street because of the location, New said, adding that the coalition already had plans to streamline its operations before the shelter closed.
The new drop-in Service Center is located at 250 North St. in Bennington. It is open seven days a week, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 10 p.m. to 2 p.m. on weekends. New said the 250 North Street location was first opened to serve as a night shelter for the winter months, but the need for it led the coalition to keep it open year-round. New said the shelter sat empty during the day, but no longer.
The North Street location will now house the coalition's various case managers who can direct people in need of any social service, not just housing. New said these managers were already at the coalition's other facilities, but having them all in one place will not only make them more efficient but can, and has, created more space to house people.
She said the drop-in center will offer training classes, rehabilitation therapy, as well as access to telephone, Internet, and mail services. New said the goal is to prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place, and already the coalition, through the center, has been able to keep two people from going onto the street. New said more will now be done to follow up with people who find permanent housing through the coalition in order to prevent them from falling into another crisis.
New said the coalition still has financial problems to overcome. It finished its last fiscal year about $55,000 in debt, which led it to cut three jobs and fire its executive director.
New said Monday that about $50,000 is still needed for operating expenses, and another $50,000 for the coalition to do all the things it desires, such as getting new appliances and repairing buildings.
"Although we still have financial shortcomings, we have turned the corner in our own sustainability," New said. "It was my dearest hope we would survive, and now I know that we will."
Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr.