Homeless Coalition on ballot


BENNINGTON -- The Bennington County Coalition for the Homeless will be on the ballot this March, asking for the same amount it had requested in the years prior to last, when financial reporting issues led it to say it could not accept town funding that year. It is also seeking to hire a full-time executive director.

Stacey New, president of the coalition's board of directors, said the $25,000 the group is asking voters to approve is key, as federal and state funding sources may dip this year by as much as 12 percent while expenses are not getting any lower.

Last year, after the coalition outlined its financial troubles, the Select Board placed it on the ballot asking if voters would give it $7,500. New had approached the board in February to say the financial information submitted to the town was not complete or accurate and it would not be fair to ask for a vote on the $25,000 it had requested as it normally does.

The coalition has since come a long way in righting itself financially, hiring a professional auditing firm and working more closely with state agencies. New said last year she feels good about where the coalition is headed and that it can tackle the challenges it faces.

She said the group now seeks to hire a full time executive director and has begun the search process for that. While being shepherded by the state, it has become "crystal clear" that a full-time professional executive director is needed for the coalition to continue. The director is essential for managing programs, grant writing, and acquiring revenue through donations.

The group's former part-time director was dismissed in the weeks leading up to the disclosure of the financial troubles.

The coalition currently employs a full-time shelter manager, a part-time case worker, and part-time office assistant. New said she and Mary Gerisch, a board member, have been doing the work of the executive director, but given their other responsibilities there is a limit to what they can do.

New said in an interview Monday that the coalition's operating budget is approximately $400,000. About 25 percent comes from federal funding administered by the state, which she said has been reduced by between 11 and 12 percent statewide. What the impact will be on the coalition is unclear.

The coalition will appear on the ballots for surrounding towns as well, but the amounts being asked for are under $1,000. New said the highest being requested is $750.

She said most of the people the group helps are from Bennington, but aid is given county-wide. Between February 2013 and January the coalition provided shelter for 150 individuals. Some were sheltered for a night, others for months. Services were also provided to 200 people.

New said the $25,000 is not earmarked and will go into the group's general fund, however it will cover the expenses associated with its Bennington operations. New said the community has been supportive of the coalition's efforts and has yet to see a ballot article not pass.

The coalition operates out of its North Street shelter, which began as a place people without homes could stay for the night during especially cold periods. This year the group consolidated its programs there to create a central hub and better provide services. It also saved money by closing a shelter in North Bennington which was inconvenient for people who stayed there, and had initially shut down because of a bed bug problem.

Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at kwhitcomb@benningtonbanner.com or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr.


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