Louison House homeless shelter readies move back to Adams home after fire, renovation

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ADAMS — Moving day for the Louison House is almost here.

The homeless shelter is set to move back home to Adams after a 2016 fire forced it into temporary quarters in North Adams, at the Flood House on Church Street.

After four years of fundraising and construction, the more than $2 million renovation and repair of the original Louison House is nearly complete, and officials are starting to organize volunteers to help with the move.

Interior work is set for completion Jan. 22, according to Kathy Keeser, director of Louison House. The next week will be used for cleaning and moving smaller items. The big move, when larger items and the residents move in, will be from Feb. 10 and Feb. 15.

That's when anyone with a truck and/or sturdy set of hands is needed to help move the shelter back to town.

Always Moving has volunteered workers and a truck for bigger items, but more are needed. There is a lot to move, Keeser said.

"We'll start the move slow, with the smaller stuff, and gradually get bigger as we go," she said.

Keeser noted that anyone who wants to help should call 413-663-6323, ext. 2, so she can organize the helpers and let them know when to come over for the move.

The Flood House and Louison House can hold about 22 people at a time. That includes long-term families, and long-term single and overnight clientele.

Louison House opened in summer 1990, and since then it has sheltered 2,000 to 3,000 people, Keeser estimated. The structure was built in the 1890s.

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The renovated structure will be renamed as Terry's Place, after Theresa Louison, who was involved in the founding of the shelter, Keeser said.

It will feature a new kitchen/dining area, living room and new office space for staff. There will be a handicapped-accessible apartment for one or two people, a third-floor independent apartment that can be used as temporary housing for a couple or a small family, with a women's unit on the second floor and a men's unit on the first floor.

Mike Cutler, a member of the board of directors of Louison House and a longtime volunteer, said that when a place is spruced up and looks better, people naturally feel better about being there.

"They feel better about themselves and tend to make better choices to improve their lives," he said.

Once both houses are completed, Cutler said, it will tend to support a more stable organization that can be more effective at keeping people at risk of homelessness sheltered, fed and healthy.

"It's going to be bright, positive and shiny," he said. "It's going to do such great things for the area."

The nature of those staying at the shelter changes nearly daily, so, sometimes the formats of the rooms will change to accommodate different types of guests. For example, if there are few singles staying there, that space could hold a small family for a bit, or the other way around.

"It's always changing," Keeser said.

She said there is a coordinated entry process for applicants. Most clients face key challenges to finding a place to live, which include such things as low income, unemployment and physical or other handicaps. The average stay at the shelter used to be three to four months 10 years ago, Keeser noted. Today, the average stay is about six months, due to increases in rent and stagnating wages.

In the spring, work will conclude on the exterior of the original Louison House, and work will commence at Flood House in North Adams to turn that into affordable housing that can serve as a first step after transitioning out of the Louison shelter. Keeser said the Flood House would be reoccupied in early summer.

Scott Stafford can be reached at sstafford@berkshireeagle.com or 413-629-4517.


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