Behind the resource center, shelter from the storm is coming

  • Concord Coalition to End Homelessness case worker Sue Coviello in the snack room overlooking the new shelter construction on Friday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Concord Coalition to End Homelessness Executive Director Ellen Groh stands in the interior of the new winter homeless shelter on North Main Street on Friday. The shelter will house 40 beds and is due to be finished by the end of this month. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • Lee Davis sits inside the Concord Homeless Resource Center after celebrating his 60th birthday on Friday.

  • Concord Coalition to End Homelessness executtive director Ellen Groh looks up at the renovations to what will be a conference room after water damage affected the area in the main building. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monday, March 12, 2018

For homeless people in the city, it’s almost time for bed.

A walk behind the Concord Homeless Resource Center near downtown reveals a long, narrow building with workers hammering windows and floors into place.

There, perhaps by the end of the month, a new building with a smooth blue paint job will dominate the area beyond the view from North Main Street, where 40 beds will be available for the homeless beginning next winter.

The facility, which falls under the umbrella of the Concord Coalition to End Homelessness, ends the gray area created when cold-weather shelters housed at the South and First Congregational Churches folded their cots and ceased operations three years ago because of the prolonged burden the program had caused.

“They saw a need and they filled it, but they really didn’t have a long-range plan,” Ellen Groh, the executive director of the coalition, said during a chat in her office Friday. “It was a lot of responsibility for them and wear and tear on their buildings. We had a lot of momentum and our organization was growing, so it was time to make a shift.”

Replacing the “temporary” with “permanent” in front of “homeless shelter” has been over a decade in the making, ever since the South and First Churches boldly stepped forward to make Concord a warmer place.

Once that became too much, St. Peter’s Church stepped forward the past two years, but a place that the less fortunate could call home each winter, during night-time hours only, remained an unstable and iffy proposition.

But Groh’s group won unanimous backing from the planning board last May to build a 1,480-square-foot shelter behind the Resource Center.

From there, monetary elements fell into place, like the sale of tax credits; a loan from the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority that won’t need to be paid back as long as the shelter is finished; city, county and state funding; and grants.

And then there’s the private donations of $143,000 for the facilities and $385,000 for operating costs, leaving the shelter a mere $20,000 short of its goal.

The 9th Annual SouperFest and FunFest, featuring homemade soups, face painting and a bouncy house, will be held Saturday from 2 to 7 p.m. at Rundlett Middle School, and the suggested donations of $10 per adult and $5 for children 12 and younger will benefit the Coalition.

Groh also mentioned a record $50,000 worth of sponsorships, and people like Jonathan Halle of Warren Street Architects and contractor Gary Chicoine, both of whom made Groh’s eyes widen.

“Their support has been amazing,” Groh said. “No profits.”

Once 19 zoning variances were secured, a huge slope on the shelter site had to be filled in to level the ground. That happened in the fall, and the work has progressed fast ever since.

And staff and volunteers at the Resource Center like Angela Spinney, Kathy Armbricht, Sue Coviello and Sarah Heard have certainly noticed.

They come to the Resource Center, with its large windows facing out back, and see hope for the future growing in the form of a long, rectangular structure.

Heard has been volunteering since December and said, “They finished the roof in like two hours. People would be standing at the windows watching things go up.”

Currently, the shelter has a rock-based floor with parts of cushioned fiberglass already in place. There are fresh beams visible on the walls and ceiling. Construction trucks squeeze down a narrow muddy driveway to reach the site.

Groh predicted a ribbon-cutting in May, at which time the shelter will join the year-round McKenna House as the two main Concord buildings that reach out to the homeless.

The new one, unlike the dry McKenna House, will accept those who appear to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs, but unruly behavior will not be tolerated.

“There’s only been a few instances of that,” Groh said. “But not many.”

Groh noted that homeless shelters are the equivalent of bandaging a wound, and that housing is the key to solving the widespread problem of homelessness.

“It keeps people alive,” Groh said, referring to the shelter, “but we need as many resources as possible for housing.”

The goal is to mirror Bergen County, N.J., Rockford, Ill., and Lancaster City and County, Pa., the three communities nationwide that have created something called Built for Zero, a system that maintains a record of housing the homeless for an extended period of time.

Groh’s staff has seen feel-good stories through the years. As Coviello, a case manager, said, “The best part of my job is when someone comes back and says, ‘Hey, I’m doing it on my own.’ ”

She remembered seeing a familiar face while bowling in Manchester recently, then realized the woman had visited the Resource Center and later had found a home.

“She told me how great she was doing,” Coviello said. “It made my night.”

Maybe Lee Davis of Chester will get there some day. He turned 60 on Friday and said he’s been homeless on and off for nine years. He’s bounced around from job to job, working on cars, tractor trailers and motorcycles.

He’s thankful for the new shelter.

“It’s a good thing,” Davis said. “It’s going to be needed. A person my age does not need to be outside on the street anymore.”

The new building was clearly visible outside Groh’s window.