Block grant to fund repairs at city homeless shelter
VERGENNES — The John Graham Shelter and the city of Vergennes on Tuesday received a $327,000 Community Development Block Grant that will fund more than half of a $627,000 renovation to the Monkton Road homeless shelter, the first major project in its 30-year history.
Shelter Executive Director Elizabeth Ready said the organization already had in hand a $197,000 grant from the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, and that other private donations will fund the balance of a project that she hopes will begin in June.
The property, a former boarding house with 10 bedrooms, including a manager’s apartment, has been used as a homeless shelter and transitional housing for families for three decades. The shelter also provides help for its residents in finding counseling, jobs and permanent homes.
The project will renovate the living spaces and create for the first time a communal living room; install sprinklers; upgrade wiring, plumbing and insulation; remove vinyl siding; install a new heating system and other energy-efficiency equipment; repair the foundation, chimneys and slate roofing; and replace a porch.
Critically, Ready said, warm-weather construction will allow the Graham Shelter to continue to fulfill its mission.
“We’re not planning on closing the shelter,” she said. “It’s the only year-round shelter in the county. We want to make sure that resource is available to people.”
Ready also wanted to make clear that while the block grant should complete fund-raising for the shelter’s infrastructure, other financial needs remain pressing. With the drying up of federal economic stimulus money, for example, she noted the shelter has had to cut in half the hours of its outreach coordinator, who among other things works to find permanent housing for shelter residents.
“The real struggle for the shelter is to maintain our services to families throughout the community,” Ready said. “We have our operational side, and we have the capital side.”
Despite the cutbacks, the shelter has managed to find permanent homes for about a dozen individuals or families in just the past couple weeks, she said, including a family of six in just the past few days.
Those good news stories are due in part to partnerships with other agencies, Ready said.
“I do want to stress the number of successes we’ve had in the past year. And it’s not just the shelter’s success, it’s the communities’ success,” she said.
Still, with 22 residents this week during the holiday season, a tough time for the homeless, Ready said the shelter remains on the lookout for help despite the block grant.
“What I’m saying is a story that is being repeated by many agencies. But when you’re dealing with the homeless, you’re on the front lines,” she said.
Marcia Mazeine, chairwoman of the shelter’s board of directors, said on Tuesday the upgrade to the shelter will make life better for its residents. For instance, the living room will give families a place to work on job and housing applications as well as relax, and an upgraded interior will add to quality of lives.
“This grant is a critical piece of the funding to make these needed upgrades to the John Graham Shelter, so that we can provide residents of Addison County with a safe and welcoming environment during a time of need,” said Mazeine.
In announcing the grant, one of four statewide, Gov. Jim Douglas praised the shelter’s work.
“The John Graham Homeless Shelter is an important resource for needy Vermonters,” Douglas said. “This will be its first major renovation in 30 years, and will allow it to continue its important mission for the residents of Addison County.”
Community Development Block Grant funds come from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and are administered by the Vermont Community Development Program. Vermont receives about $7 million annually that must be used principally to benefit persons of low and moderate income. The state awards the competitive grants based on recommendations of the Vermont Community Development Board.
Vergennes aldermen in August agreed to apply for the grant on behalf of the John Graham Shelter. Ready praised city officials, especially City Manager Mel Hawley, for their work in obtaining the grant, and said the state’s local block grant liaison, Lisa Ryan, has also been “fantastic to work with.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].