People & Places

Brattleboro seeks money for $3.3 million homeless shelter

A drawing shows a $3.3 million homeless shelter proposed for downtown Brattleboro. Image by Duncan Wisniewski Architecture of Burlington

BRATTLEBORO — Local advocates for the homeless hope to cap a years-long search for a permanent winter shelter by constructing a $3.3 million downtown structure.

The nonprofit Groundworks Collaborative revealed plans Monday for a two-story, 5,800-square-foot building on South Main Street that would provide daytime support services year-round and nighttime accommodations from November through April.

“We’re excited to be able to build this space for our clients, our organization and our community,” Groundworks executive director Josh Davis said. “At the same time, it’s a shame that we’re driven to grow as an organization because it’s indicative of increasing need for our services.”

Brattleboro has seen a rising number of people sleeping, panhandling and drug dealing in public places — so much so, municipal government has spent $1,000 a month for portable restrooms at three downtown locations after residents complained about the homeless relying on trees.

Brattleboro’s temporary winter shelter has moved in recent years from rented space in the First Baptist Church on Main Street to the former Austine School for the Deaf on the outskirts of town.

“We devote a lot of resources to finding and securing a location each year to ensure the survival of this program,” Groundworks operations director Rhianna Kendrick said. “The program provides lifesaving shelter for those with nowhere else to go. The alternative would simply be devastating for our community.”

The new building, designed to host upward of 60 people during the day and house 34 beds for night use, features restrooms, showers, washers and dryers, a kitchen and lockers for client storage.

Groundworks’ current daytime drop-in center, located next to the building site, would be renovated to house case management services and health collaborations with the Brattleboro Retreat, Brattleboro Memorial Hospital and Health Care & Rehabilitation Services of Vermont.

Groundworks has secured $2.2 million for the $3.3 million project with support from the Vermont Community Development Program, Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, Brattleboro municipal government and private trusts and donors. The nonprofit now is seeking $500,000 from the public.

“We still have a significant amount of money to raise,” Davis said, “but we feel confident we can open our doors next fall.”

More than 250 people in Brattleboro and surrounding towns are homeless, according to Groundworks, which also runs a food bank on nearby Canal Street and a 30-bed year-round shelter with a perennial waiting list on Royal Road.

Josh Davis, executive director of Brattleboro’s Groundworks Collaborative, displays his nonprofit’s fundraising thermometer. Photo by Kevin O’Connor/VTDigger

The seasonal overflow space, which welcomed 28 people on its first night this month, served 134 people last winter, with 80% from Brattleboro or Vermont, 13% from other New England states and 4% from elsewhere.

Groundworks shared the plans a week after developers proposed a $30 million seven-story arts and apartment block — the most expensive Main Street project in local history — for the same section of downtown.

“This shelter is a necessary part of a vibrant Brattleboro,” Davis said. “I don’t want people to think this is a cure-all. With the influx of opioids, what we’re seeing on the street is complex. But this will help us do our work better.”

Duncan Wisniewski Architecture, which has assisted Burlington’s Committee on Temporary Shelter, is designing the wood-framed structure. GPI Construction of Brattleboro is set to break ground next spring with a goal of finishing next fall.

“This building is for sleeping, taking a shower, getting something to eat,” Davis said. “It’s relatively simple. But the need is vital and, for some, life or death.”

Brattleboro’s Groundworks Collaborative is proposing a $3.3 million homeless shelter for land next to its current daytime drop-in center on South Main Street. Photo by Kevin O’Connor/VTDigger

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