MONTPELIER — In a pandemic-driven move that came together quickly and was executed without any serious issues Sunday night, central Vermont’s only homeless shelter – Good Samaritan Haven – was transplanted from Seminary Street in Barre to the Econo Lodge in Montpelier.
The move, which included those staying at Good Samaritan’s satellite shelters located at the Hedding United Methodist Church in Barre and Bethany Congregational Church in Montpelier, is a collaborative initiative designed to resolve health-related concerns stemming from the disease – COVID-19 – caused by the new coronavirus.
Those concerns weren’t new because social distancing is beyond problematic in a shelter setting where homeless guests share bunk-beds in cramped quarters and overflow accommodations at the two local churches involve using cots that are even closer together.
“We were in a very precarious situation,” said Rick DeAngelis, executive director of Good Samaritan Haven.
It’s why DeAngelis said the shelter working with state and local officials had been working on an alternative to the shelter’s “congregate setting” that received the necessary approval from the state in an email he received early Sunday morning.
DeAngelis said the email triggered a day’s worth of work by a hastily assembled planning committee followed by an hours-long process during which 37 of the shelter’s 38 guests transported to rooms in the Econo Lodge by midnight.
DeAngelis said driver David Lefebvre had to double back to pick up one straggler shortly before 1 a.m. on Monday and the last available room – the state is using “general assistance” funds to rent 41 of them from the Econo Lodge – was filled later that day. One of the rooms is being used for offices and another as overnight quarters for Good Samaritan staff.
Sunday night’s move didn’t go off without a hitch, but DeAngelis isn’t complaining about the fact the van the Montpelier Senior Activity Center generously loaned for the effort needed to be jump-started because it had been idle for several days, or that it stalled again during a supply run to Wal-Mart.
Those were barely perceptible speed bumps in what DeAngelis described as “a massive logistical challenge,” which will change the way Good Samaritan serves its homeless clientele for the foreseeable future.
The Barre shelter is now being used for storage, the cots at the churches are no longer needed, and the cadre of church volunteers who prepared dinner fore the overnight shelter has been replaced by a crew at the kitchen at Capstone Community Action. DeAngelis said Morse Block Deli in Barre is providing lunches as part of an evolving plan that may involve leasing additional rooms at the Hollow Inn in Barre Town.
DeAngelis said he had visited both motels before receiving approval from the state and settled on the Econo Lodge as the more convenient location. However, he said Tuesday additional rooms may be required and, even if they aren’t, his preference would be to “reduce the density” at the Econo Lodge, which is located on Route 12 in Montpelier.
According to DeAngelis, the no-guests allowed arrangement assigns one person per room, encourages hand-washing and no longer requires those served by the shelter to leave during the day and come back in the evening. In fact, he said, it is encouraging the opposite and committed to providing shelter, meals and medical attention – including methadone treatment for those battling addiction – at the new location.
In a move to quell concerns of Montpelier officials, DeAngelis outlined plans to have three staff members on site at all times, expand the existing surveillance camera system at the Econo Lodge, and require those at the motel to agree to abide by strict behavioral requirements.
While the state is paying for the rooms, and Capstone is producing most of the meals, Good Samaritan Haven costs associated with staff working more hours to provide additional coverage needed in the motel setting.
DeAngelis said those costs are expected to compound in coming weeks and the shelter has launched an emergency appeal for donations. Those interested in making a contribution can do so by visiting http://www.goodsamaritanhaven.org
Disclosure: Executive editor and publisher Steven Pappas is the chair of the Capstone Community Action’s board of directors.