Louison House grappling with financial struggles

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Photo Gallery | The Flood House provides shelter to homeless

NORTH ADAMS — Louison House Inc. is feeling a financial pinch since a June 26 fire burned and closed its Adams-based shelter forcing the organization to open a temporary shelter at the Flood House on Church Street, said Kathy Keeser, executive director of the agency.

Donations are sorely needed so that the 395 Old Columbia St. structure in Adams known as the Louison House can be fully renovated and so necessary work can continue at the Flood House in North Adams, which will ultimately be used as permanent supportive housing, Keeser said.

To help, an Aug. 11 lasagna dinner fundraiser for is planned at Mingo's Sports Bar and Grill at 41 Roberts Drive in North Adams. The cost is $15 per person and includes bowling at the adjacent Greylock Bowl. Dinner will be served from 5 to 7 p.m. and bowling is slated from 5 to 10 p.m., she said. Celebrity bartenders include Mayor Richard Alcombright from 6 to 7 p.m. and city councilors Kate Hanley Merrigan and Benjamin Lamb from 5 to 6 p.m.

Significant expenses

Keeser said the costs to repair Louison House and do the work at Flood House are estimated at between $150,000 and $200,000. Insurance will not cover all the Louison House repairs, she said. The three-story building sustained significant water damage during the fire and 14 people living there were forced to move to local motels.

The North Adams Housing Authority approved a $1 sale of Flood House to Louison House Inc. in November 2015, but the sale has not closed. Keeser said the closing should occur later this month.

In July, the North Adams Housing Authority granted a temporary Flood House lease to Louison House Inc. officials so that the site could be used as a temporary homeless shelter. Right now there are five individuals living there; a family of five moved from the shelter into an apartment about a week ago and others displaced by the fire found living accommodations before Flood House was opened, Keeser said. Shelter residents occupy a portion of the house while renovation work is going on in other parts of the building.

Some Flood House repair work is being funded by the housing authority prior to the closing but the bulk of the work needed to convert the spacious three-story building into apartments will have to be financed by the Louison House group, Keeser said.

Lead paint issue

There are issues facing both structures, she said. Flood House is believed to contain lead paint so families with children under 6 years old cannot be sheltered there,she said. Prior to the fire, Louison House had multiple problems that needed to be repaired or renovated, Keeser said. Among the issues are roof repairs, stairway renovations, and other structural work must be done before the shelter can reopen. Insurance funds will only pay for water damage or other damage resulting from the fire.

"What we are really trying to raise money for right now is the Louison House structure," she said during a Monday interview. "There were things that needed to be done there before the fire happened, so we have to have those things done before we can go back in."

An assessment of current community needs is also in the works, she said.

"We are also re-assessing community needs," she said. "There are people still struggling with homelessness but there are new priorities showing that older youth, around the 17-, 18-year-old range have a need for housing. We are looking at the possibility of setting up some emergency space. We are going to reassess everything and look at the needs over time."

Much of the agency's budget is delivered through reimbursements and about $280,000 in "spend downs" means spending money before it is in hand, she said.

"That's the amount of money we get behind," she said. She said the money is initially acquired through credit lines via financial institutions and then is paid back when reimbursements are received.

"We are trying to get a better idea of this situation, and we think we will be using Flood House as a shelter for at least six months," she said. "We haven't gotten a general contractor yet and we need to get one to look at the insurance end of things. We are trying to determine costs, we are trying to determine what are all the regulations that we need to follow, all the requirements we need to meet to get opened again. We are looking into grants."

A six-month stay at Flood House means heating the building, she noted.

Shelter staff member Sherry Dunne said that residents seem to enjoy the new living space.

"They are helping us decorate and helping us get things organized," she said. "The staff likes it as well, although we did have a few days when we were getting lost with all the unfamiliar hallways."

Tickets for the Louison House lasagna dinner are available by calling 413-663-6323 or by purchase at the door.


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