By Sheri Duff
A group of seven moved into Harbor Place, the new short-term housing facility and former Econo Lodge in Shelburne, on Nov. 1. “Champlain Housing Trust finalized the purchase of the motel last Monday and started accepting families Friday,” said Chris Donnelly, director of community relations for the Trust. “I realize this must seem like a fast turnaround, but in reality we’ve been planning for months,” he said.
“We held a mini-retreat last January. What rose to the top of the priority list at those meetings was a desire to help those who were struggling with homelessness,” Donnelly explained. “Vermont has little existing affordable housing, and with the end of Section 8 vouchers, we wanted to figure out what we could build to help. It’s been a nine-month conversation.”
What Champlain Housing Trust (CHT) and its collaborating partners eventually built is new to Vermont. According to Donnelly, there’s nothing like Harbor Place anywhere in the state. Homeless clients in need of short-term housing will be referred to Harbor Place through a variety of agencies, each with an assigned caseworker to help right on site. In addition to CHT, the collaborating agencies include Vermont Agency of Human Services, United Way, Fletcher Allen Health Care, Fanny Allen Corporation, Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity, Women Helping Battered Women, Safe Harbor Clinic (Community Health Center of Burlington), and HowardCenter.
“Some clients will be displacedfrom their homes due to fire, flood, or other disaster. There will be victims of domestic violence and others will be discharged from a healthcare facility and need follow-up treatment,” Donnelly shared. “What they all have in common is a need for short-term housing, up to 28 days per state rule, until they can get back on their feet again. People need this. They have nowhere else to go.” As of Monday night, Harbor Place has 18 clients.
CHT will operate Harbor Place with a manager and staff 24/7. A security firm will be employed to be on site every evening from 8-10 pm. In addition to a new sign, security cameras, and lighting, a few renovations will also be necessary to maintain the facility.
What is also necessary is public transportation. “Access to the bus is one of the reasons we purchased the facility in Shelburne,” Donnelly commented. “We haven’t quite figured how to help our clients with transportation yet, but we’re working on it. We would like to offer bus vouchers, so if anyone has an idea or is interested in becoming a ‘bus angel’ we would love to hear from you,” he added.
Donnelly estimates that the new short-term housing facility will save the state approximately $250,000 annually. “Instead of the $62 a night the state paid, Harbor Place will only cost $38 per night,” he informed.
“Shelburne has reacted positively, but I am more than willing to talk with anyone about Harbor Place,” Donnelly emphasized. “I want anyone in the area to feel comfortable calling me for information. Once the community understands our approach, I’m confident they will approve of our efforts to solve it.”
For more information or to offer assistance with bus vouchers, call Chris Donnelly at 861-7305.