Good Samaritan Haven, a local emergency shelter program, just got enough funds to convert the Twin City Motel into a new homeless shelter. If all goes as planned, up to 35 beds will be ready by December, according to Rick DeAngelis, executive director of Good Samaritan Haven.
DeAngelis told The Bridge by phone on June 25 his organization identified the Twin City Motel, located on the Barre-Montpelier Road in Berlin, as a suitable location and then worked toward getting it under contract.
“We’ve been able to make a lot of progress with approvals with the state of Vermont and the town of Berlin,” DeAngelis said, praising officials with the town of Berlin for working hard and being responsive. The town of Berlin’s Development Review Board addressed the project during their meeting on June 15, records state.
Then, on June 24, Good Samaritan Haven was notified it was awarded $5 million from the Vermont Housing and Conservation board to pay for the project. Although it is a lot of money, DeAngelis said it will not cover 100 percent of the costs. The project has also asked for support from the Montpelier Housing Trust Fund.
“It really is a regional response. We are asking for $100,000. I don’t have any word, yet, but I am blown away that the city would consider a project outside Montpelier,” he said.
Securing, funding, developing, and opening such shelters is very expensive, DeAngelis noted, including costs such as architects, engineers, and landscapers. The organization needs to raise another $300,000 in addition to the grant money in order to complete the project correctly.
While the motel is in good condition and has been well maintained over the past 50 years by owners Rejean and Donna Gagnon, changes need to be made for a new use. For example, some existing cabins will be replaced by a new building, existing rooms will be upgraded to be more energy efficient, and features such as a sprinkler system, handicap accessibility, and air conditioning will be added.
“Nothing fancy, but high quality, adorable, and operable,” DeAngelis said. And in addition to the motel, there is a house on the property, which will serve as a welcome center and emergency service hub.
The new facility will house up to 35 people with 18 rooms. Some will be singles, some doubles, and one a triple. Though it is not a solution to emergency housing needs, DeAngelis noted, it will help a lot. In addition to this new housing complex, Good Samaritan Haven has a home in Barre with a 30-bed capacity, and an unnamed facility in Montpelier with 10 beds, which DeAngelis said is not publicized. He is also trying to place a facility in Barre Town.
This kind of project is especially urgent since the motel voucher program — implemented to shelter people on an emergency basis during the COVID-19 pandemic — is winding down. According to a state report, about 2,000 rooms in 76 lodging establishments are being funded for homeless individuals. These motels and lodges are seeking to return to the tourism industry. By July 1, 250 rooms will be unavailable for use as a shelter. Then, the number of rooms will further decline throughout the summer and fall as the economy reopens, the report states.
Before the pandemic, shelters were overcrowded and people were sleeping in church basements, but that is not a good solution, according to DeAngelis, adding, “it would be great if we could have everyone in housing.”
From Rejean and Donna
Former Twin City Motel owners Rejean and Donna Gagnon posted this message on their website, twincitymotel.com:
The Twin City Motel has been sold and will not be operating as a business any longer. We want to thank our many patrons for all your support and business you have given us for these past 50 years we have been in business. We have developed many special friendships over the years from our customers that we shall cherish forever. We look forward to starting another chapter in our lives. Thank you.