Three years after fire, Louison House homeless shelter rises from the ashes

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ADAMS — It had been three years to the day since a fire caused the closing of the Louison House.

More than 100 people gathered Wednesday to mark the rebirth of the homeless shelter after a fundraising campaign was able to garner nearly $2 million for construction costs.

The result will be even more space for those experiencing or at risk of homelessness.

The gathering drew a significant number of former residents and ex-staff members, along with numerous volunteers, donors, supporters, politicians and members of the board of directors present and past.

"Welcome home. We're thrilled that you're here," the shelter's executive director, Kathy Keeser, told the crowd.

The June 26, 2016, electrical fire on the third floor of Louison House on Old Columbia Road in Adams started at 9 a.m. and caused minor damage, but in extinguishing the fire, the sprinkler system caused significant water damage throughout the structure. On top of that, according to Keeser, since this was going to be a major reconstruction effort, town codes kicked in that required a number of upgrades.

Keeser recalled that after a few days in hotels and staying with friends, Louison House residents were able to relocate to the Flood House on Church Street in North Adams. Once they were settled in, officials starting the planning to bring the Louison House back from the ashes.

They had to rebuild, and in doing so, they wanted the operation to grow. But first they had to raise the money to do so.

Since then, local donors have ponied up more than $140,000, and another $757,340 came from the Massachusetts Housing Innovation Fund. The state's Affordable Housing Trust Fund kicked in $460,000 and the National Housing Trust Fund contributed $500,000.

Today, the plan is to provide one affordable and handicapped-accessible transitional apartment on the first floor, with another apartment for transitional housing on the third floor, as well as 22 beds for homeless residents.

Once that is done, and Louison residents have been relocated there, the Flood House in North Adams will also be renovated into three affordable apartments as transitional housing, growing the operation to two residential structures in two adjacent towns.

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"Like this house, we've been here for a while, and we're just getting started," Keeser said.

During the presentation, a number of former board members and residents offered remarks and dropped a shovel full of dirt into a flower pot, which now houses a flower.

"We hope to be moving back this fall," Keeser said.

Among those who spoke was Brandy Doran, a former resident and current volunteer for Louison House.

She shared that she was suffering from agoraphobia when she wound up in the shelter. Doran stayed there from Oct. 30, 2015 to June 14, 2016, undergoing a number of therapies and training programs to help her become self-confident and self-sufficient. She moved into her own place 12 days before the fire.

When the fire happened, Doran said, she quickly returned to her former home to help her friends and neighbors, putting up one of those displaced in her new apartment.

"Staying at Louison House was the most amazing thing that ever happened to me," she told The Eagle after her presentation. "I went from crawling to flying. That's why I'm such a big supporter."

Now she volunteers three to four times a week to help out with a wide variety of chores.

Keeser noted that once the project in Adams is complete, the residents at the Flood House will be relocated to the newly rebuilt Louison House, and work will then begin on the Flood House, converting it to into three affordable apartments.

Founded in 1990, the Louison House, as the only comprehensive housing agency in Northern Berkshire, provided services to over 5,000 individuals and families struggling with homelessness in the region.

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


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