With the approval of Rochester City Council, the Tri-Cities have given the Strafford County’s Community Action Partnership the green light to use the Willand Drive Warming Center as full-time overnight accommodation this winter for what is expected to be the final operating season.
The Rochester Council unanimously approved the plan on Tuesday, which includes overnight stays and weekends at the shelter from November 29 to April 1. Proponents of the shelter’s full-time opening applauded after the council made its decision. The plan was approved by Dover City Council last week and Somersworth City Council on Monday.
Rochester councilor Palana Hunt-Hawkins said opening the shelter full-time was just the beginning of the work that needs to be done to help the unhodged community in the tri-cities.
“The council’s vote to allow night-time protection throughout the winter is a great first step in responsibly addressing the growing population in our area that is unprotected,” said Hunt-Hawkins. “This is by far the best thermal plan our cities have worked on since the Tri-City Task Force on Homelessness was founded. Now the real work begins with the further implementation of the seven strategies outlined in the master plan of the Tri-City Task Force, including the sustainable operation of a thermal protection bunker with a low barrier for the next few years. “
Betsey Andrews Parker, director of the Strafford County’s Community Action Partnership, coordinated the resources needed to turn this warming center into full-time accommodation.
She assumes that the shelter with a capacity of 80 beds will be well utilized this winter. When her organization used the Garrison Hotel’s thermal center and temporary emergency shelter program last year, up to 101 people were staying between the two locations at one time. Andrews Parker said her employees enjoy this opportunity to work consistently.
“We know that sustainable, consistent accommodation means building relationships and increasing opportunities to meet customers where they are and find a way forward,” said Andrews Parker. “The difference this year that we saw at the garrison last year was that we really had time to talk to people when they are safe and warm and when they have a chance to eat they can that make better decisions about next steps. “
Andrews Parker said it’s not just about providing shelter, it’s also about building relationships.
“It’s more than just a bed for one night,” said Andrews Parker. “It’s a consistent relationship between customers, our employees, and volunteers. It’s about having conversations about what they need, evaluating them and meeting them where they are to help them plan where they want to be. “
The overnight extension, requested earlier this year by the Strafford County’s Community Action Partnership, was originally rejected by city leaders who wanted the facility to remain a warming center only.
Pressure rose on city guides to change their minds after Tri-City officials decided to have the police clear the wooded homeless camps on private properties in Somersworth, near Willand Pond. The recent displacement of more than 60 homeless people camped on Garabedian’s property and two recent deaths among the uninhabited population of the tri-cities prompted lawyers and non-profit leaders to urge public officials to reconsider.
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Concern about the next winter is increasing
The Dover and Somersworth city guides made it clear that this venture, which Rochester is also involved in, is not a long-term solution and that the Dover-owned building will be on the market next year.
During the Tuesday night meeting, Rochester City Councilor Chris Rice raised concerns about the potential sale and its implications for next year’s winter season.
“(Running the shelter full time) solves the problem this year and I fully support that, but if Dover pulls the rug out from under the rugs of the community, what are we going to do?” Rice said Tuesday night. “Because we can’t leave these people out next year, three years from now. We need a plan. “
Dover city manager Michael Joyal said the Willand Drive shelter will not be sold until a new shelter location is created.
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Andrews Parker said many people had shared their concerns about the sale of the building and that the Strafford County’s Community Action Partnership was at the table in these talks with the cities.
“We’re working with cities right now to determine our next steps for next year,” said Andrews Parker. “So a lot of people have questions about what we’re going to do after that, and we’re in active discussions with all three churches about where it would be and what it would look like. In the next year we will have more information on how we will work. This is currently an active conversation with the municipalities. “
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Rochester City Councilor Jeremy Hutchinson, who has been a vocal advocate for the homeless, said the plan was far from perfect, but he saw it as a vote that was moving aid in the right direction. He said more needs to be done in the future, but he hopes the new council will rise to the challenge.
“I was proud that one of my last votes as a city councilor was to finally approve funding for a shelter to match the moment of our current homelessness crisis,” said Hutchinson. “That vote ensured the likelihood that many of our vulnerable neighbors would survive the coming winter – it’s surreal that it took so long to make this life or death decision To continue working with the homeless and other vulnerable populations in our region and our state. “
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Volunteers, donations needed
As the Strafford County’s Community Action Partnership prepares to open the shelter later this month with approval from the Tri-Cities, the organization is looking for volunteers to occupy the shelter this season. Two volunteer training courses will be held at the Willand Center site. Interested volunteers should schedule to attend on Thursday, November 18 at 3 p.m. or Tuesday, November 23 at 5:30 p.m. For reasons of space, registration is required by e-mail to [email protected] More volunteer training courses will take place in December.
CAPSC is also seeking volunteers, meals, and basic donations to support customers. If you are interested in an ongoing weekly food donation please contact [email protected]
“We strongly encourage people to take one of our volunteer training courses simply because this really is a longer-term event and we want to make sure people are aware of their responsibilities and what needs to happen,” said Andrews Parker. “Customers will be with us for an extended period of time so there are some additional responsibilities helping people do their laundry, picking up trash, setting up and dismantling things, and making sure customers are referred to services and have everything they need . “
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Andrews Parker said that COVID-19 was at the forefront of volunteer training. Your organization plans to offer vaccines to customers who use the shelter. Donated meals and snacks are packaged individually instead of being served as family dinners. Masks are required in the facility for both volunteers and customers.
“Like last year, COVID is a big issue this year,” said Andrews Parker. “We will continue to actively monitor the COVID rate in the community. We will work with local experts, follow state rules and regulations, and we will continue to have multiple COVID logs to keep our customers, employees and volunteers safe so we can work all winter. “
This article originally appeared on Foster’s Daily Democrat: Willand Drive Warming Shelter, which is approved for full-time use. What’s next?