BENNINGTON — The Bennington County Coalition for the Homeless is seeking approval for a new shelter home on Main Street.
A transitional shelter at 966 Main St. could double the number of people the coalition can serve and is in line with state efforts to end motel voucher use, according to Executive Director Christopher Oldham. The initial capacity would be six beds, he said, and the goal is to have between 17 and 20 beds. The program would have 24-hour supervision, case management, job readiness and enrichment programs.
"Our job and mission is to give the tools and building blocks to help lift people back onto their feet," Oldham said during Tuesday's Development Review Board (DRB) meeting.
Nearby property owners questioned whether it would affect the character of the neighborhood. They expressed concerns about safety, increased foot traffic and parking.
DRB members asked Oldham for more information on the site plan, including property and living space sizes, handicap accessibility and parking, and requested he return for the July 19 meeting. The 0.18-acre property, which is listed as for sale, is in the town's Village Commercial District. The shelter home use requires DRB approval.
The 16-year-old nonprofit operates at three properties: 250 North St. has a daytime drop-in center, the Good Shepard Shelter with six beds for short-term stays and case management staff; the Thatcher House on Pleasant Street has 11 beds for long-term stays and administrative offices; and a McCall Street building has eight beds.
Oldham said that if the Main Street proposal is approved, the coalition would move out of 250 North St. That building is not up to code and not handicap accessible. A study found renovations would cost $430,000, he said.
"For a small nonprofit, that's almost impossible for us," he said.
Oldham said the coalition could better help individuals with the new space. The state provides vouchers for use at motels when there are no beds available at emergency shelters, which Oldham said is costly and ineffective. The coalition would offer job readiness and enrichment programs. Raised plant beds would allow residents to garden. Some minor work would be done on the building's exterior, but there would not be a sign. A fence would be installed between abutting properties.
"Our main concern is safety," said Jennifer Krijnen, who owns Bakkerij Krijen with her husband, Hans. She wondered if the proposed use would not increase crime in the area.
Linda Burmudez of Oakes Street said a nearby motel accepts state emergency housing vouchers and produces significant foot traffic. She also questioned how many staff members would be on duty supervising the residents.
Oldham said the coalition is sensitive to the neighborhoods, checks arrest warrants on individuals, and has a zero-tolerance policy on alcohol, drugs and weapons.
He said the coalition would create two new positions and hire new support staff.
Hans Krijenn said he did not want to lose three parking spots in front of his business. Oldham, noting he was on the Select Board when those spaces on Main Street (Route 9) were allotted several years ago, said he would not allow staff, residents or visitors of the home to use those spots.
State Rep. Kiah Morris, Bennington 2-2, spoke in support of the project and the process.
Contact Edward Damon at 802-447-7567 ext 111