Renovated Middlebury shelter ready to serve more homeless guests

MIDDLEBURY — The Charter House Coalition (CHC) is putting the finishing touches on a first round of repairs to the interior of its warming shelter at 27 North Pleasant St. that will allow the facility to house and better feed more homeless guests this winter than in years past.
More than 100 community volunteers have had a hand in the upgrades to the Charter House, which for the past several winters has hosted area families and individuals with no other place to stay. The CHC has been providing those guests, free of charge, supper in the evening, a warm place to sleep at night, and then a nutritious breakfast in the morning.
The Congregational Church of Middlebury — a major player in the CHC organization — owns the Charter House. The church has allowed the CHC this year to use all of the Charter House space for its food and shelter services. In an effort to take full advantage of the church’s generous gesture, the CHC decided to renovate the building to maximize its potential for programming.
So this past summer, scores of helpers knocked down walls, painted, installed furnishings and did other work that will pay dividends for guests who were due to begin arriving on Sunday, Oct. 15. Many could become repeat visitors until the shelter closes next April 16. The renovations will allow the Charter House to accommodate up to five families at a time, up from the previous limit of three; and up to 20 individuals simultaneously, up from 12.
“Everyone is welcome,” CHC Executive Director Doug Sinclair said of the shelter, which last year served 83 individuals and 26 families. “It’s first-come, first-served, with no questions asked.”
Workers this summer also expanded the Charter House kitchen by 50 percent, and stocked it with some much-needed, commercial-grade cooking appliances. That kitchen serves more than 30,000 free meals each year to folks who would otherwise go hungry. People in need can now find free meals virtually every day of the week at various locations in Middlebury thanks to the efforts of the CHC, a non-profit association of local religious groups and individuals dedicated to providing the basic necessities to people in need, or who simply want the social interaction.
   A NEW COMMON room, volunteer room and updated guest rooms are part of the Charter House Coalition’s recent interior renovation project.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell
Last year, the CHC added a “day station” to its Charter House offerings. Open weekdays from 12:30 to 5 p.m., the day station links homeless people with other local non-profit agencies to help them look for jobs, permanent housing and other services to get them back on their feet. The latest renovations will make the day station function even better this year, CHC officials believe.
CHC officials on Monday were polishing off construction work in anticipation of the shelter opening for business. The organization was slated to showcase the improvements during an open house on Saturday, Oct. 14.
“We’re racing to be ready, but we will make it,” Sinclair said.
All of the latest Charter House upgrades — and the ones to follow — come at a price. The volunteer labor has helped cut down on expenses, but the kitchen project alone cost around $30,000, according to Sinclair. And it costs around $40,000 each year just to operate and maintain the building, he noted.
“We need to raise money to cover that cost year after year,” said Sinclair, who credited the Addison County community for its generosity.
Anyone able to contribute money, food, labor, clothing or other resources to the CHC effort should contact Samantha Kachmar, associate director of CHC’s housing programs, at (802) 989-4108 or at [email protected]. In the clothing category, the CHC is in particular need of gifts of new underwear (men’s, women’s and children’s), socks and warm winter gloves.
Work on the Charter House is not done. They’d like to continue upgrading the kitchen so that it can be up to commercial standards by the end of next summer, to allow it to keep pace with the demand for meals.
“The space was not originally designed for what it will become,” Sinclair said of the kitchen.
   THE CHARTER HOUSE Coalition is finishing the first phase of interior renovations to its warming shelter on North Pleasant Street in Middlebury. The Charter House, which completed exterior renovations last year, began receiving homeless guests on Oct. 15.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell
Sinclair and Kachmar are again anticipating a full house most days this winter. Homeless shelters in Addison and Chittenden counties are already seeing big demand in spite of recent warm temperatures. As of Monday, 11 individuals had already made plans to use the warming shelter upon its opening. Two families had also signed up, with another pending, according to Sinclair.
Some professional supervisors, with volunteer support, staff the shelter. The guests dine together. The shelter has not yet had to evict a guest for behavior or other issues.
“We continuously reflect back to our values,” Kachmar said. “We have ‘values posters’ hanging throughout the building that talk about ‘respect,’ ‘dignity’ and ‘compassion.’ Conversation goes a long way toward resolving conflict.”
Some of the shelter users have become helpers, assisting with kitchen work and other chores.
“This is sort of their house, and they take some ownership in the fact that it takes something to make this all work,” Sinclair said. “Many of them want to give back for the chance to be in a warm place where they get a meal.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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