Good Samaritan Haven, in partnership with Vermont Housing & Conservation Board (VHCB), Downstreet Housing & Community Development (Downstreet), and many other community supporters, celebrated the grand opening of the Good Sam Welcome Center, an 18-room, 35-bed emergency shelter for people experiencing homelessness in central Vermont on Thursday, August 11. The event was attended by Welcome Center residents, community supporters, donors, and state and local officials.
With tremendous financial investment from VHCB and generous private donors, Good Sam purchased the historic Twin City Motel on the Barre-Montpelier Road in Berlin on August 27, 2021. Just under a year later, on July 18, 2022, Good Sam opened the doors and welcomed their first guests.
Good Sam Board Chair Melissa Battah presided over the celebration with opening comments complimenting the success of the project. She expressed how honored and proud she was to be the chair of the organization.
Julie Bond, co-executive director of Good Sam, stressed the importance of welcome and read a moving piece titled, “Welcome Blessing” by Reverend Jan Richardson that aptly illustrated this sentiment. “There’s really an ethic of welcome that can’t be underestimated in this work, and really shouldn’t be underestimated by any of us,” said Julie.
Todd Daloz, deputy secretary of the Agency of Human Services, congratulated Good Sam, VHCB, and Downstreet, and cited the broad collaborative community partnership.
“We currently have about 3,000 unhoused individuals in Vermont, experiencing homelessness, and that’s about the same size as the population of Berlin, where we are today,” said Daloz. “It’s really sobering to think about the task ahead of us that we have been struggling with…and contextualize it through projects like this which are a step–a very positive and strong step– in the right direction.”
Daloz noted that with all of the day-to-day problems he deals with, how wonderful it is–with all of those daily problems–to have some daily celebrations. “This is certainly a tremendous day for celebration,” he emphasized, calling the Welcome Center project “a beacon of how to move forward and how to combat the challenges of homelessness in Vermont.”
Gus Seelig, executive director of VHCB, took a moment to reflect on his own roots in his youth in the late ‘70s when he was surviving on unemployment before getting a job at what today is Capstone Community Action. He shared how he and a few friends were able to rent a farmhouse in central Vermont for $150 a month and how the food stamps were generous enough that they could all eat. “That’s not true today,” said Gus.
Gus said, “VHCB is pleased to support Good Sam and we appreciate Downstreet’s role in construction management, greatly expanding shelter capacity in central Vermont and providing 15 new beds in South Barre.” “Rick DeAngelis chose to lead Good Sam rather than retiring, and Nicola Anderson at Downstreet has done a terrific job bringing the construction project to completion.”
Downstreet provided development and project management services to facilitate the construction of the project. In recent years, the organization has strengthened its focus on providing housing opportunities for central Vermonters experiencing homelessness. Currently, 25% of Downstreet’s affordable apartment rental portfolio is dedicated to those coming out of homelessness.
Nicola Anderson, director of real estate development at Downstreet Housing & Community Development, spoke about the beginnings of the Welcome Center project and the determination and persistence that was needed to find a suitable property and location–in the midst of a pandemic–and gave special thanks to the Town of Berlin for their help expediting the permitting process.
Mary Moultin, executive director of Washington County Mental Health Services, read a poem written to commemorate the event by Morgan Brown titled “A Welcoming Place to Sojourn.” Morgan Brown was formerly unhoused and often stayed at the former Twin City Motel. He is now a writer and an activist on issues related to homelessness.
Good Samaritan Haven Co-Director Rick DeAngelis closed the program thanking the many individuals and organizations who helped with the development of the project. He added: “Nearly every day, people come to us seeking shelter and other basic necessities. Many of them have serious health and self care concerns. The Welcome Center gives us a greater capacity to respond and to provide safe and dignified shelter.”
DeAngelis said that Good Sam is hoping to promote community involvement in the Welcome Center for special programs and ongoing support. If you’d like to be involved or want more information, call Rick DeAngelis or Julie Bond at (802) 479-2294.
Barre-based Downstreet Housing & Community Development (downstreet.org) is a non-profit organization that strengthens the communities of central Vermont by engaging with people, providing affordable homes, and connecting people to the resources and services they need to thrive. Since 1987, Downstreet has enriched neighborhoods in Washington, Orange, and Lamoille Counties through a variety of home-ownership programs, Support & Services at Home (S.A.S.H.) for older and disabled Vermonters, real estate development, and a rental portfolio that provides safe, healthy homes for more than 850 people through mixed-income apartment and mobile home park rentals. https://downstreet.org/press-kit
About Vermont Housing & Conservation Board
VHCB’s dual goals of creating affordable housing for Vermonters, and conserving and protecting Vermont’s agricultural land, forestland, historic properties, important natural areas, and recreational lands are of primary importance to the economic vitality and quality of life of the State. https://vhcb.org/