Downtown: Winter homeless shelter looks toward the future

  • An excavator is seen through a Concord Coalition to End Homelessness office window in Concord on Friday, Oct. 6, 2017. A 40-bed winter shelter, which will provide a refuge from cold weather for the city’™s homeless population, is set to hold a ground-breaking ceremony Tuesday. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Ellen Groh, executive director of the Concord Coalition to End Homelessness, talks about the winter shelter being built on the property in Concord on Friday, Oct. 6, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 10/8/2017 11:51:03 PM

As the leaves change and the natural world prepares to shut down for winter, Ellen Groh has a front-row seat to growth going on right outside her office window.

Her view might be just be a patch of dirt, torn-up vegetation and an excavator for now, but come winter, the executive director of the Concord Coalition to End Homelessness is hoping her view will change.

Instead of a construction site, she’s hoping she’ll be looking at a 40-bed winter shelter, which will provide a refuge from cold weather for the city’s homeless population. After two years of not knowing whether a shelter would be available for the winter – the Friends Program ran a shelter out of St. Peter’s Church for two years after the city’s traditional winter shelters at First and South Congregational churches were no longer available – Groh said the fruit of the coalition’s efforts would be a welcome sight.

But there’s still a long way to go before the shelter is on firm ground, she said. And as the coalition prepares to host a ground-breaking ceremony Tuesday afternoon, Groh is hoping a community that has so far been willing to support the shelter project is prepared to go the distance.

“We’re just getting started,” she said, standing in her office Friday afternoon.

Construction of the shelter is expected to run about $738,000, and that’s after all the donated or discounted time, labor and supplies that local businesses have contributed to the project, Groh said. Without the community’s support, she said she “couldn’t imagine” how much the shelter would cost.

About $490,000 of that expense is made up of site work and construction, the price of which has already gone up since work on the project began a few weeks ago, according to Groh.

That’s thanks to the discovery of a disconnected gas line and an old foundation, according to Ellen Fries, a member of the Coalition’s board of directors.

“That’s what happens when you build in a city that’s been torn down and built up again,” she said with a shake of her head.

The bulk of the shelter project’s expenses will come from the sale of $345,000 worth of tax credits and $250,000 from the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority, according to the coalition.

To make up the rest, as well as help fund three years’ worth of operations, the coalition has launched a three-year fundraising campaign. Their goal is $528,000 in private donations, $143,000 of which will go toward building the shelter; the rest will go to operations.

It’s a steep number, but Fries expressed optimism.

“We’ve already raised $300,000 since we started in June,” she said. “We’re just asking people to not close their checkbooks yet.”

The goal was originally to have the shelter open by Dec. 15, but Groh said that date may no longer be realistic. In the meantime, the coalition is working to find another location, should the weather get bad before the shelter is competed.

Fries said the coalition has also started its diversion tactics, meaning they are encouraging the city’s homeless to find other means of shelter come the winter months. The shelter, she said, is meant to be a last resort for those who need it, not full-time housing.

Despite its temporary nature, both women were relieved to have a cold-weather option for the city’s homeless population in sight after two years of anxiety.

“It feels really good,” Groh said, looking out her office window, “to see it all coming together.”

The ground-breaking ceremony will take place at 4 p.m. Tuesday at 238 N. Main St.

Information distribution

The city council will be considering whether to create a new position in the city’s administration office to convey information to the public at their Tuesday meeting.

A public information officer would be responsible for overseeing “the totality of the City’s external communications,” according to a report by Deputy City Manager Carlos Baía. This would mean daily meetings with police, fire, general services and other arms of city government to follow new and current issues, and then releasing that information to the public. They would also “strategically plan for timed releases of information concerning projects and initiatives.”

The need for this position, according to the report, is about “managing the message.” Thanks to social media, the days when people would wait to read about happenings in the city are gone; people want their information now, the report states.

But there’s also a gap in information dissemination, according to the report.

“In addition, with the decline of traditional media, coverage of local governments is even more scant,” the report says. “This creates a vacuum where the City’s message is no longer in the hands of professionals who would take the time to analyze an issue but instead, could be controlled by anyone with a smartphone. As many communities are realizing, this creates a significant challenge.”

The report continues: “With the incredible reliance on internet search engines to learn about communities, if a City’s message is being controlled by individuals with limited or incorrect information, the image conveyed to the mass public may be distorted. This is particularly important for the City’s economic development initiatives. When site selectors or business executives search Concord, New Hampshire it is hoped that they would be directed to information that illustrates the many positive projects and initiatives in our community.”

The position would have a salary range of $51,064-$73,965 and would start Jan. 2 if approved. Funding for the position during this fiscal year would come from the Economic Development Reserve; the position is estimated to be between $88,000 and $101,000 for fiscal year 2019.

Jam-packed meeting

Speaking of Tuesday’s meeting, it’s a big one: Twenty-one items are scheduled for public hearings, and 20 items are scheduled for action. The Monitor has written about some already, like the sale and redevelopment of the former New Hampshire Employment Security building to Dol-Soul Properties, LLC; impact fees and some zoning ordinance changes. Here’s at least a few more items that might be worth your attention:

A resolution authorizing the use of $300,000 from the Conservation Reserve Purchase of Property fund for the purpose of buying 116 acres of land within the Penacook Lake watershed, located off Lakeview Drive and West Parish Road. The Haller family agreed to sell the land to the city in 2015 at a price of $600,000, according to city documents, and the Conservation Commission received grant funding to cover 50 percent of the purchase price. Half the cost is covered by state Department of Environmental Services grants, according to city documents. The land will be used for open space and watershed protection purposes.

A resolution to use $160,000 for improvements to the Storrs Street Parking Garage. According to a city report, the 177,000-square-foot facility has recently seen water damage to the masonry and roofing; in addition, the Red River Theatres vestibule entrance has been damaged due to water infiltration. If approved, the money would be used to fix the garage’s elevator roof and repair elements of the Red River vestibule. Although a public hearing is scheduled on this matter, an action vote will not be taken until next month’s meeting.

A resolution to accept $749,030.26 from the state, to be used for highway construction or maintenance purposes. The money comes from the passage of Senate Bill 38, which made a one-time additional allocation from the Highway Block Grant to New Hampshire’s cities and towns.

Again, that’s just a sample of what’s going on Tuesday. For a full agenda, head to the city’s website.

(Caitlin Andrews can be reached at 369-3309, or on Twitter @ActualCAndrews.)

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