13 residents in need of housing after Louison House fire

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ADAMS — Needs are great and time is short for the 13 people displaced from the Louison House homeless shelter after a small fire Sunday.

Shelter residents were moved to the Howard Johnson motel in Williamstown but the temporary tenancy is expected to end Friday morning, said shelter Supervisor Sherry Dunne.

"We need permanent placement for people," she said. "There's availability at Howard Johnson until Friday morning, but the motel is booked for the weekend."

The 395 Old Columbia St. shelter was deemed uninhabitable following the fire. First Assistant Fire Chief John Pansecchi was at the scene Monday morning and said that the cause of the fire was electrical. The fire started in a third-story space, he said.

Building Inspector Donald Torrico posted a restricted access sign at the building's door late Monday morning. Authorized people may enter the building for short spans of time, he said.

The habitability issues were not caused by the fire, but by an activated sprinkler system which generated water damage, Torrico said.

"The fire suppression system knocked the fire down quickly, but there is substantial water damage," he said after inspecting the three-story building.

"There is no power, no gas and now the fire suppression system is out of service," he said. "Mold is going to be a problem."

Warm temperatures and humidity levels will exacerbate mold issues, he noted.

The plan is to meet with insurance adjustors, contact a professional cleaning company, plan to repair the damage and get the shelter operational again, said Louison House board of directors President Mark Farrington.

"We are waiting for the insurance adjustor and we will return to this site," Farrington said. "Right now we need a temporary shelter and I have a few ideas."

Farrington declined to elaborate on the temporary shelter space until a plan is finalized.

The situation underscores the need for affordable housing and the plight of those without housing, Farrington and Torrico said.

"This facility is definitely needed," Torrico said.

"(Shelter staff) see the issues but I am not sure people understand the number of folks that we help, and the many ways we help," Farrington said.

He emphasized the emotional challenge the fire caused for the residents.

"When you're on your last resort and the last resort gets taken away, that gets pretty devastating, and understandably so," he said.

Immediate needs include cash to pay motel bills, bus passes so people can manage their appointments, microwavable food items, clothing for a family whose clothes were ruined, personal care items including toothbrushes, shampoo, deodorant, soap, can openers, large storage containers, paper utensils, plates and cups, underwear and socks.

The clothing needs are women's sizes extra large in tops and shorts for one parent, misses or juniors sizes medium for a female girl, and men's large for a male youth.

Should a temporary shelter be found, volunteers will be needed to help with moving, Farrington said. Donations of U-Haul-type trailers and furnishings would also be needed, he said.

"We know we need six beds," he said. "Right now, that's part of the challenge. We don't know everything that is needed."

Those wanting to donate are asked to call Tracy Beany, shelter supervisor, at 413-841-1142. Those who may have temporary shelter venues or permanent housing are asked to contact Farrington at 413-884-4413.

Farrington and Beany asked that people not go to the shelter site to drop off items without first making arrangements to do so. Items cannot be protected from the weather at this time.

Farrington said that interim Director Alan Bashevkin has spoken with him and also with North Adams Mayor Richard J. Alcombright. Bashevkin took was named to the role this spring. Bashevkin told the Eagle Monday morning that there are many details to iron out and that he would be able to provide better insights about the situation on Tuesday.

Adams Housing Authority Director Richard Hamlin referred to the situation as a "tough one."

"The (town) housing authority is not set up for emergencies," he said. "We do have emergency housing applications and people are able to come in and fill them out but it's all subject to availability." The town entity has 24 units designated for families and 64 units for the elderly, he said.

"We could do a whole seminar on affordable housing," he said. "One of the problems is, depending on the program, the definition of 'affordable' changes."

An example is a federal Department of Housing and Urban Development definition that sets affordable housing as consuming 30 percent of a household income. Other programs use different formulas or criteria.

Hamlin said that he is "more than willing" to speak with Louison House officials about the current situation, and he noted that there are private rental complexes in the region.

"There are a lot of actors in the area," he said. "As examples you have Scarafoni Realty, Greylock Apartments, the Mill Houses, there are a lot of actors."

"Affordable" can be pretty lean financially, Dunne said, and shared that one family in need of placement has a total monthly income of less than $550.

Louison House resident Mary Turner said that she loved living at the residence and was sad to have to leave. Turner found living quarters with a friend, she said.

"I don't mind talking to you and I am not ashamed to be living here," Turner said. "I loved living here. People care about you. When the staff found out about the fire, they all came. "

Turner recently had surgery on her thumb and is wearing a cast. She said she is fortunate that she recently received word that she'd been accepted for a rent-subsidized apartment.

"The waiting list is up to six months," she said, and added that she is glad to know that she will at some point have a permanent place to live.

But she will miss the Louison House environment, she said.

"I did a lot of cooking here and everybody loved it," she said. "Most of it was stuff my mother taught me, just good cooking. I would plan my meals four days in advance."


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