A local steering committee hopes to open a winter warming shelter in St. Johnsbury to house up to 10 homeless people in time for the next cold season. Organizers are looking for support to host the facility in part of the Northeast Kingdom Youth Services building on Bagley Street and would like to have it open by October. The state spent more than $270,000 on motel vouchers for homeless people in the St. Johnsbury area last winter. A shelter could mitigate that cost while connecting people with other services to help them escape poverty, officials say. About 25 people turned out Thursday night at the proposed shelter site for a spaghetti supper and to learn more about the proposed overnight transitional shelter. The committee is made up of nonprofits, including the Northeast Kingdom Community Action (NEKCA), the Community Justice Restorative Center, Inc., Northeast Kingdom Youth Services, local clergy, the Agency of Human Services, the Economic Services Division and more. Northeast Kingdom Youth Services has offered the shelter site at “a very affordable rate,” said Val Covell, warming shelter coordinator for NEKCA. A similar effort failed last year after opposition rose against a proposed site on Lincoln Street, she said. Covell said the state is working with communities to find better solutions to help homeless individuals than the present voucher system, where people in crisis are put into motels on an emergency basis. A warming shelter would help to connect people to services such as housing and employment to help them get back on their feet, Covell said. “It’s not just about housing them, it’s about trying to help them — why are they on the street? What happened, and what can we do to get them where they need to be?” she said. The shelter proposal will be before the town’s Development Review Board on July 30, where a vote on the change of use application filed by Northeast Kingdom Youth Services is expected.
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