Warming shelters to open on October 15

MIDDLEBURY — The thermometers are currently telling us it’s almost 75 degrees outdoors, but that won’t last long.
The folks at the Charter House Coalition know fall weather in Vermont can take a nose-dive in a matter of hours, so the nonprofit group will be opening its shelters for both families and individuals on Oct. 15.
The shelters, as usual, will be hosted by the Congregational Church of Middlebury’s Charter House at 27 North Pleasant St. Up to 15 individuals at a time will be able to seek refuge there from 7 p.m. to 9 a.m. every overnight until April 15. And up to four homeless families will have accommodations in a separate area of the building, also until April 15.
Established in 2005, the Coalition is a nonprofit association of local religious groups and individuals who each year donate hundreds of volunteer hours and thousands of dollars to make sure the less fortunate in our midst have access to the basic necessities. The group organizes free community meals throughout the year and links the homeless and low-income residents to state agencies and organizations to receive additional aid.
Charter House Coalition has offered the shelter service for the past four winters, and visitors will note two big changes this year in the quality of facilities and their operation.
First, a corps of dedicated volunteers made substantial repairs earlier this summer to the exterior of the Charter House, to improve its durability and energy efficiency.
Second, the coalition will — for the first time — run a “day station” out of the facility until next spring. This day station will operate seven days per week, from 12:30 p.m. to 5 p.m., and will give homeless visitors extra protection from the elements while offering services to help them land a job and/or permanent housing.
Specifically, the day station will provide:
•  Mentoring.
•  Referrals to other social services providers and physical/mental health resources.
•  Games, arts and crafts.
•  Life skills services, including resumé building, assistance with job applications, help in scheduling interviews, and workshops to expand life skills — such as the tenant-landlord relationship.
•  Relationship building.
Doug Sinclair, executive director at the Coalition, and his colleagues had hoped to make the Charter House a year-round day station. But Vermont Agency of Human Services officials decided against providing partial subsidy for that service, electing instead to use its limited funds for emergency care for the homeless, according to Sinclair.
“We decided to do a half-day station,” Sinclair said, noting the coalition was able to find enough resources and shuffle staff to make the proposition work.
“We can do this for a low budget,” Sinclair added. “The goal is to offer the day station year-round. But we will do it half-days as a pilot for six months.”
And Sinclair said that between the coalition lunches, day station and shelter, visitors during the winter will not have to spend much time outside during the most inclement weather.
Samantha Kachmar is the coalition’s associate director of housing programs. She will play a lead role in coordinating shelter services, in concert with a dedicated group of volunteers. Kachmar began helping with coalition programs back in 2009, while with the Vermont Department of Health. She has since broadened her involvement to include management of the nonprofit’s food programs, and now its housing programs. She has also helped manage the coalition’s community garden initiatives, which provide healthy, locally grown produce for those in need.
“I have grown with the organization, and it’s a great place to be,” Kachmar said. “You see all walks of life come together here (at the Charter House) and make a difference.”
Coalition officials are gladly accepting donations of money, food and warm clothing to help make the shelter a success. In particular, shelter clients could use winter clothing, including gloves and boots of all sizes, as well as twin bed-sized bedding — blankets, sheets and comforters.
Anyone able to contribute to the cause should contact Kachmar at mskachmar@gmavt.net, or by phone at 989-3108. More information about the coalition’s many programs can be found at www.charterhousecoalition.org.
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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