Times Argus: Homeless shelter to open in capital

MONTPELIER — Services for the homeless in the capital will be launched for the first time next month with a new shelter at the Bethany Church.

The shelter in the basement hall of the Main Street church will offer 20 beds and would operate from early November until April.

The new shelter is an overflow service of The Good Samaritan Haven in Barre, central Vermont’s only year-round homeless shelter with 30 beds. The shelter also operates another overflow facility during the winter at the Hedding United Methodist Church in Barre with 14 beds.

Both overflow shelter services are supported by a one-time $600,000 legislative appropriation earlier this year to expand services in both Barre and Rutland rather than spend money on hotel vouchers during the winter months. Advocates of the funding said shelters were better able to connect the homeless with other services, including affordable housing and mental health and disability services that could lead to more permanent housing. Washington County Mental Health Services has also offered Good Samaritan Haven the use of three one-bedroom apartments in Montpelier as short-term housing for the homeless to help them transition to permanent housing, and will also provide the homeless with mental health counseling services.

Officials at The Good Samaritan Haven and Bethany Church were upbeat about having a shelter in Montpelier for the first time. The link between the two is shelter manager Judi Joy, who is also a member and past president of the Bethany Church Board of Trustees.

Joy said the idea for an overflow shelter at the church came about during a service she attended.

“At Bethany, we have a spoken aloud prayer time, and we prayed for people who were going to be out in the cold after the overflow shelter at Hedding United Methodist Church closed in April when it was still chilly,” Joy said. “We went from the prayer group into a lesson study about how to be community, and we talked about how people wanted to give more.”

Joy said when she learned about the extra money from the state for additional homeless services from Good Samaritan Haven Executive Director Brooke Jenkins, she suggested opening an overflow shelter in Montpelier.

“ I thought Bethany Church would be very approachable and it’s our mission to serve, so I brought it up to the church board, and Brooke wrote a proposal and we brought it to an open meeting of the congregation,” Joy said. “ People had questions that Brooke answered, and it seemed to go well, and then we had a board meeting and decided to move forward with it.”

Jenkins added, “We have been working hard to find a place to open a new overflow shelter, and Bethany Church stepped up.”

Bethany Church i s donating the space and Good Samaritan is going to staff and administer the program.

Jenkins credited the Montpelier Housing Task Force with awarding a $5,000 grant to Bethany Church to install shower facilities for the overflow shelter residents.

“ Homelessness is an issue in Montpelier but there has not been a shelter ever,” Jenkins said. “It’s really tough, so I think that the church … stepping up to help some of the most vulnerable in the community is huge.”

Church and shelter officials said the Bethany shelter will not interfere with other programs and services at the church. They said portable beds will be set up for overnight use, from 8 p.m. and 8 a.m., and will be stored away the next morning. The church’s Tuesday Bethany Bowl soup kitchen will also continue to operate.

During the day, the homeless will have the use of Another Way on Barre Street, a longtime community support service for people with mental health and other challenging issues, Joy said.

Bethany Church minister, the Rev. Amy Pitton, expressed strong support for the homeless shelter at the church.

“The homeless shelter is very much in line with Bethany’s mission,” said Pitton. “ We very much care for our neighbors and those who are struggling. We have been a supporter of The Good Samaritan Haven for a number of years, providing meals, and this just seems like a natural fit.”

Pitton said the church and its congregation has been concerned about the Montpelier’s homeless population over time.

“I don’t think we would be capable of doing it on our own, but working with an agency that already has the homeless as its mission and understanding how that works has made it possible for us to be in partnership to address the problem,” Pitton added.