BENNINGTON — Bennington is applying for a $1 million grant on behalf of two local housing projects for people in recovery from substance misuse.
The town Select Board, in a 6-1 vote on Monday, approved the grant application request from Shires Housing. The housing developer said it intends to use the funds to buy two Bennington homes and transform them into recovery housing, with $500,000 allotted for each project.
The specific properties to be developed were tied to the request for the Vermont Community Development Program grant. Squire House, located at 185 North St., will house up to nine women in recovery, according to a presentation by project proponents at the board meeting. The house’s programming will be run by Mission City Church and the Vermont Foundation of Recovery, which manages other recovery housing in the state.
The other property, at 612 Gage St., will house up to eight men. The local recovery center, Turning Point Center of Bennington, will run the programming there.
The homes aim to provide medium-term support and services to their residents, serving as a transition between treatment facilities and living on one’s own. Squire House’s recovery programming will last 8-14 months; the one on Gage Street, 3 months to a year.
The homes will have a substance-free policy. And house managers will help supervise residents.
“What this is allowing folks to do is have the period of time and the safety and the guardrails and the accountability they need to really change their lives and really get some strength in their recovery, so they can make healthy life decisions,” said John Rogers, executive pastor of Mission City Church.
“So many people go into a 28-day treatment program, and they come out and they’re not ready,” he told the Select Board. “They go right back into the same environment where they came from and it doesn’t end well.”
A NEED IN BENNINGTON
The executive director of Shires Housing, Stephanie Lane, said there has long been a need for recovery housing in the Bennington area. People who seek this type of transitional housing reportedly have to go to either Rutland or Brattleboro, which are the closest, while others have to head out of state.
“I feel like it is our responsibility to do something to address it,” said Lane, whose organization sets up affordable housing throughout Bennington County. “We have a commitment to house those in need, so how do we turn our backs to this particular need?”
The hourlong discussion of the projects included multiple questions from community members and Select Board members. Among them was board member Sarah Perrin, who asked if the project proponents knew of other recovery housing in residential neighborhoods, such as the proposed one on Gage Street that is across from the local recreation center.
Jeff Moreau, founding executive director of the Vermont Alliance for Recovery Residences, said recovery housing is designed to blend into the community and needs to be situated near service providers, because residents often don’t have their own vehicles. These service providers, which are usually found near the town center, include hospitals, recovery centers and fitness centers.
Moureau, whose organization certifies recovery housing in Vermont based on national standards, said each home has a grievance and appeal process for its residents as well as its neighbors. If the neighborhood isn’t able to resolve its problems directly with the home, Moureau said his organization can intervene and sanctions could go as far as revoking the home’s certification.
A Bennington resident, Jackie Kelly, asked whether situating the recovery housing downtown would only put residents near sources of alcohol or drugs while they’re trying to stay sober.
David Riegel, executive director of the Vermont Foundation for Recovery, said the emphasis among people in recovery is to develop relationships, coping mechanisms and resilience that will enable them to stay sober amid the hurdles of life — rather than hiding from substances, which he said can be found in even the most rural areas.
On a question about the cost to operate the homes, Turning Point Center recovery coach Ralph Bennett said residents will be charged weekly or monthly fees to stay and receive services. "This isn't a free ride," he said.
Riegel added that residents will be required to either work, go to school or volunteer a minimum of 20 hours a week. This, he said, will help them build self-esteem and practical skills, such as budgeting, which are needed to successfully live independently.
The homes' financial stability will also involve their holding fundraising events, as well as applying for state and federal funding, Riegel said.
Perrin, who was the single no vote on the grant application, made a motion to submit the application without specifying the Gage Street address. But she brought this forward in the middle of board members’ voting on the grant application, and her motion became moot after the majority approved the application.
“I fully support the recovery housing project, we have a clear need,” Perrin said in response to questions from the Banner on Tuesday. “But Gage St. is in a dense, residential neighborhood and close to our community Rec Center.”
She said a number of residents from that neighborhood have concerns, and she wanted them to “feel fully informed and heard before moving forward.”
The Vermont Community Development Program grant, administered by the state Agency of Commerce and Community Development, distributes federal dollars for a variety of projects that would benefit people with low to moderate income.
The grant application deadline is July 1, but when the funds would be released is unclear, said Bennington’s Community Development Director Shannon Barsotti. Barsotti, who oversees the progress of the town’s VCDP-funded projects, estimated that the funding could be available before the end of 2021.
This isn’t the first time Bennington is working with Shires Housing on a VCDP-funded project, Barsotti earlier said. Previous collaborations include the Monument View Apartments and energy upgrades at the Applegate Apartments, she said.