Originally printed in the Addison Independent, Monday 09/30/2019
By: John Flowers
MIDDLEBURY — The Charter House Coalition (CHC) has hired additional staff and is putting the finishing touches on major upgrades to its Middlebury warming shelter at 27 North Pleasant St. in anticipation of serving a steady stream of homeless clients that will grow as the weather gets colder. CHC is a non-profit, volunteer-based organization dedicated to providing basic food and housing to those in need in and around Middlebury. The organization operates a year-round
shelter for individuals, and can also accommodate up to five families during the cold season, Oct. 14-April 20.
Coalition Co-Directors Doug Sinclair and Samantha Kachmar took time last week to talk about a busy summer that will lead into an even busier winter period.
“The number of people needing assistance is blowing up the system,” Sinclair said. Three years ago, the warming shelter provided 3,672 bed nights. That increased to 5,012 during the ensuing year, and surged to 7,047 this past year.
“The need isn’t going away,” Kachmar said.
“We need help,” Sinclair added with a smile.
Reinforcements are on the way.
The CHC recently hired Sheri Sullivan to the newly created post of “food programs manager and operations assistant.” The nonprofit continues to search for a “client support services manager.” Both positions are part time (20-25 hours per week), but will eventually become full time due to the growing demand for food and shelter, according to Sinclair. The CHC’s core staff had consisted of one full-timer (Kachmar) and two part-timers, one of which (Sinclair) is an unpaid volunteer.
“We really need four full-time people,” Sinclair said.
Coalition officials pointed to several possible reasons for the booming demand for services. There continues to be a shortage of affordable housing in Addison County and statewide. More people are finding it tough to survive on a single income. Human services providers in Burlington are having a hard time keeping up with the demand for shelter beds, and positive reviews of CHC services are attracting homeless folks from neighboring Chittenden County.
“Information moves quickly among the homeless population,” Kachmar said. “And Middlebury isn’t alone in seeing increasing numbers.”
Return clients this fall will find a more modern and accessible shelter, thanks to the early success of a $550,000 fund drive. Many of the improvements are now completed — or will be by the end of October. They include new heating and cooling systems, asbestos removal, weatherization work, fully accessible bathrooms and installation of a new interior elevator to
ensure both floors of the shelter are accessible to persons with disabilities.
While the building upgrades are almost done, the fundraising isn’t. The campaign as of this week had yielded around $430,000 toward a goal that has unfortunately ballooned to $750,000, due to unforeseen expenses encountered during construction. Among them was the discovery in an old, underground oil tank while digging footings for a new restroom.
Area residents are invited to get a look at the improved shelter during an open house slated for Saturday, Oct. 12, from 10 a.m. to noon. Refreshments provided.
Meanwhile, anyone wanting to donate to the CHC’s capital campaign or join its staff should log on to charterhousecoalition.org. In addition to “client support services manager,” the coalition is recruiting overnight staff to supervise shelter operations. These are paid positions that require orientation and training, to be held on Oct. 9, 11, 16 and 19, according to Kachmar. Coalition officials yearn for a day when homeless shelters are no longer needed. But until then, they are committed to growing the organization in order to help the many in need of a warm bed and a full belly.
“As you get bigger, all the administrative stuff gets more complicated,” Sinclair said. “The level of reporting you have to do and your accounting system get more complicated. We’re just spread too thin right now.”