Barre’s BOR Ice Arena may no longer be used as an emergency homeless shelter anytime soon. What happened?
When bracing for the full release of homeless motel residents to be complete by July 1 a few weeks ago, Barre put setting up the BOR Ice Arena on the fast track. City staff had laid the groundwork to accommodate a temporary congregate shelter, including getting quotes for bringing the building up to code and getting information on portable toilets and showers. But then they put on the brakes because, “we don’t have a green light from the state to proceed,” according to City Manager Nicolas Storellicastro, who reported on the situation during the June 20 city council meeting.
The situation changed when motel extensions caused a different release schedule from the original June 1 and July 1 plan. Additionally, only 20% of those living in the motels said they would be willing to take shelter at the BOR Ice Arena.
Storellicastro told council members the new schedule for motel evictions has made using the BOR less tenable because they start getting ready for “ice season” in October, so anyone using the shelter would need to be out by Sept. 15. Using the BOR made sense when people were going to need it starting July 1, but the motel program has been extended a few times with the following eviction schedule in Barre City:
On June 1, 30 people left the motels, on June 15, 32 left and four were set to leave July 1. However, due to a 20 day extension set by the state, 62 are set to leave on July 29. And the largest group of evictions is set for Saturday, September 23, when 76 people are set to exit Barre motel rooms. So with most of the homeless people leaving motels on September 23 – a few days past when the BOR would be available for use – other arrangements will need to be considered.
Storellicastro said that with the BOR less of an option, the state has received other proposals and/or letters of interest for other possible solutions, such as using the motel rooms in different ways, like having a lease to buy agreement.
But Storellicastro said Barre City will continue to be accessible and responsive while they monitor developments on a state level. “Our mantra to the state is ‘we want to be a partner, we understand the urgency, and we will drop what we are doing the minute they need to talk to us because we know how important this is’,” Storellicastro said. He also said the city’s response will be to continue to work with “terrific partners” such as the social services network to help connect people to services.
But the expected exit schedule may not match up with reality on the ground, according to at least one audience member. Speaking during the meeting, Erika Riehle of the Homelessness Task Force said not all the residents living in the motel have heard the latest information on the exit schedule, and some may have already left. “We still have folks that probably won’t get this news. People are already leaving the motel, and those numbers probably aren’t accurate,” Riehle said. She also said the new motel program requires residents to pay 30% of their incomes if they have incomes.
City Councilor Teddy Waszazak said there will be an extension in the motel program for those who are still in the motel, but those exiting before July 1 are not eligible for the extension. And those who do receive an extension will be required to pay some of their income to the motels, so there will be a match between the individual using the motel and the state. Additionally, Waszazak said, “Folks are required to work with case managers on whatever they had a case manager for. And they are required to look for permanent housing as well, which…join the club.”