MONTPELIER — As temperatures dipped below freezing this week, a new homeless shelter in the Capital City opened at Bethany Church Wednesday.
Brooke Jenkins, executive director at Good Samaritan Haven in Barre, was upbeat about the new shelter in Montpelier, despite a slow start with only a handful of guests on the first night. She said demand is expected to increase as word of the new shelter spreads and winter weather worsens.
It is the first time there has been a shelter in Montpelier, thanks to a one-time $600,000 appropriation from the Legislature this year to fund additional services in Rutland and central Vermont. The Good Samaritan was able to launch overflow services with 20 additional beds at Bethany Church and 14 beds at Hedding United Methodist Church in Barre.
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.
[blockquote size=”third” align=”right” byline=”Brooke Jenkins, Executive Director”]It’s really exciting that the church and the community wanted to do something in Montpelier. I think we’ll learn a lot this winter about what the need is, and I’m sure there will be challenges and we’ll have to tweak things, but I feel good about what we’re doing.[/blockquote]
“We are opening tonight,” Jenkins confirmed Wednesday as she prepared to arrange cots in the church’s Fellowship Hall.
Shelter hours at Bethany Church will be 8:30 p.m. to 8:30 a.m. Intake for guests will be completed by staff at both the Good Samaritan Haven in Barre and Another Way on Barre Street in Montpelier, which is open 365 days a year. Another Way offers community services to a range of people, including the homeless, with social, cultural and mental health challenges, and helps them connect with other resources in the area.
“In Montpelier, people will be going to Another Way during the day, so they have extended their hours and will stay open until 8 p.m. every night and do a meal each evening during the week,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins said the overflow shelter at the Hedding United Methodist Church opened for the season in Barre Nov. 1.
“That one is not completely full yet, but it’s filling up fast,” Jenkins said.
“We’ve been doing a little bit of outreach to some of the people in the community that we see, and letting them know that we’re opening a shelter in Montpelier, so we’ll see who chooses to come,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins said the community response had been “overwhelmingly supportive” of the Montpelier shelter.
“A lot of people want to know what they could do to help, want to get involved,” Jenkins said. “We’re been having people donate food because we’re potentially going to be feeding 80 people between Another Way and the shelters in Montpelier and Barre.”
There have also been donations of blankets and toiletries, and the Capitol Plaza donated sheets and pillows.
On Wednesday, other support staff were also working on installing a shower in the Bethany Church, thanks to a $5,000 grant from the Montpelier Housing Authority.
Among staff working on the shelter setup Wednesday were overflow coordinator Ben Jenkins, who will supervise overnight awake staff, and Jason Dick, who manages Washington County Mental Health apartments available to people transitioning from shelters to housing in the community.
Ben Jenkins appealed for more supplies including blankets, toiletries, and non-perishable sealed snacks for all three shelters.
He also credited church minister Amy Pitton and her staff for work on creating a shelter in Montpelier.
““The church has bent over backwards to make this happen and the staff has been phenomenal,” he said.
Brooke Jenkins noted that other churches have also expressed interest in providing additional services.
“It’s really exciting that the church and the community wanted to do something in Montpelier,” Jenkins said. “I think we’ll learn a lot this winter about what the need is, and I’m sure there will be challenges and we’ll have to tweak things, but I feel pretty good about what we’re doing.”
AnotherWay programming coordinator Mattie Dube said the nonprofit was ready to support the new shelter.
“We try to get information to people that are looking for guidance to navigate and connect with services that are available,” Dube said.
For people who want to be in the Montpelier area, Dube said the new shelter offered new options.
“A lot of the folks that come here don’t have access to transportation, and a lot of services and meals are offered in Barre, so if they’re staying at Bethany, it’s really nice for them to have a place to go in Montpelier.”