SOMERSWORTH – After what was supposed to be its last season of operation, the Tri-Cities have agreed on a plan to open the Willand Drive Warm-Up Center in the winter of 2022-23, but it will be very different from last winter.
The future of the warming center operated by Dover, Rochester and Somersworth has been uncertain since it ended its operation as a full-time overnight shelter in the winter of 2021-22. It ceased operations as a night shelter on March 31.
That changed Monday night. Somersworth City Council has voted unanimously to enter into a new one-year agreement with Dover and Rochester to operate the Willand Drive building in Somersworth as a strictly warming centre.
Under the new agreement, the Willand Center will once again become an “extreme warming center” that is only open during “extreme weather events deemed life-threatening by Tri-City Emergency Management,” said Somersworth Mayor Dana Hilliard at Monday’s City Council. Meet.
This decision was made as Strafford County leaders continue efforts to get project approved to build a new county nursing home and renovate the existing nursing facility in Dover into a transitional warming centre. This project led the cities to reconsider their project.
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Somersworth City Council is the first of the three towns to vote on the deal with Dover and Rochester that is expected to follow.
Somersworth will continue to offer police and fire response to Willand Drive, Hilliard said. The city councils of Dover and Rochester will each vote on a contribution of $50,000.
Strafford County’s ‘bold’ plan
The need for the shelter to operate full-time increased last fall after Somersworth Police cleaned up homeless encampments near Willand Pond on private property after the owner’s request. Tri-Cities leaders initially refused to open the shelter full-time, but eventually decided to do so after urging by numerous community activists.
The Tri-Cities gave Strafford County Community Action Partnership the green light to use the Willand Drive warming center in mid-November as a full-time overnight lodging operation for what was to be its final season of operation. Dover City Manager Michael Joyal said at the time that the city’s intention for the building, which Dover had purchased with federal funds, was to sell the building this year, after the discovery of a new shelter location. This does not happen.
Over the months, the cities intended to switch to a model they had before the Willand Drive warming center opened. They hoped to use municipal buildings and partnerships with churches to shelter from extreme weather conditions. Cities planned to gauge interest from local churches and organizations.
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Those plans changed when George Maglaras, chairman of the county commissioners, proposed a new, longer-term plan to tackle homelessness. The idea is for the county to build a state-of-the-art nursing home and convert the current Riverside Nursing Home at 276 County Farm Road in Dover into a transitional shelter, modeled after Cross Roads House in Portsmouth. Then, the county’s 10 cities and towns would undergo a thorough zoning and planning review to find new ways to encourage affordable housing.
He said the three-pronged approach to addressing nursing, the homeless population and the lack of affordable housing in the county could be one of the “boldest, most creative and innovative programs that this county has undertaken”.
The mayors of Tri-City – Hilliard, Bob Carrier of Dover and Paul Callaghan of Rochester – united at the Somersworth council meeting on Monday evening, expressing their support for Maglaras’ plan to help the elderly and homeless .
Why won’t the Willand Drive center operate as a full-time shelter like last year?
Hilliard said several factors played into the decision to change course.
Hilliard noted that the agreement for winter 2022-23 mirroring the agreement from two years ago is aligned with the “original intent” of the warming center. He said he felt last year’s agreement to operate full-time through the winter was not sustainable and was adding further stress to the city’s fire and police resources.
Hilliard also said the Community Action Partnership of Strafford County, the shelter’s management organization last winter, had shown no interest in operating the warming center again in 2022-23.
Betsey Andrews Parker, executive director of the Strafford County Community Action Partnership, described it differently. In an email response to questions from Foster’s Daily Democrat, she said CAPSC recommended a full-time shelter late last year, adding that “CAPSC would consider operating a seasonal shelter in full time if that was something communities would consider” in the future.
If CAPSC doesn’t run the warming center this winter, Hilliard said, the cities will issue a request for proposals to find another nonprofit or organization to run it.
Earlier this year, the CAPSC reported that the number of individuals using the center for shelter in the winter of 2021-22 had tripled compared to the previous winter, when it was only a center of warming. According to Andrews Parker, 309 people used the shelter at some point last winter, including 73.5% from the Tri-Cities.
The Tri-City Partnership
The partnership was born out of the need to care for the homeless during extreme weather events amid a public health crisis as the COVID-19 pandemic spread.
Dover purchased the Somersworth property used for the Willand Drive Warming Center with grant funds in 2020 to provide adequate space for those in need of temporary shelter from life-threatening weather conditions. The original idea was that the building would be kept until there was a concrete plan to build a new shelter to meet the needs of the area.
Although there are other shelters in the area such as Cross Roads House in Portsmouth, the Homeless Center for Strafford County in Rochester and My Friend’s Place in Dover, shelters in the area reported last year that there is no There were not enough beds to meet the needs as the waiting lists were getting longer and longer.
The three mayors said that while the partnership continues to evolve and change, the three cities “remain committed”.
Carrier, the mayor of Dover, told Somersworth City Council on Monday night “this plan can work, and it will work”.
“Within three to four years, we may have a multi-million dollar seniors’ complex and a new permanent homeless shelter,” Carrier said. “Without this plan for Riverside, we would just be throwing the box on the road. There was a time when we were thinking of trying to sell the building in April, but we are still looking at different avenues. The building will work for now.
Callaghan, the mayor of Rochester, said he was “100% behind the current plan”.
Hilliard said that since no city government can solve homelessness or housing insecurity alone, it must be done in partnership.
“I am very proud of what we have accomplished to date as a tri-city and county network moving in the same direction to deliver solutions to one of the most complex issues facing our society,” Hilliard said. “As an individual city, we would never have been able to solve this problem alone as a partnership of three cities and county government, we are able to keep moving forward, moving step by step and looking at what a real long-term solution might look like.
The overview beyond Willand
Todd Marsh, director of welfare for the city of Rochester and member of the Somersworth School Board, is president of the Association of Local Welfare Administrators of New Hampshire. He said winter shelter planning cannot wait.
“Winter emergency housing planning should be done when it’s 85 degrees, not 45 degrees,” Marsh said. “Minimizing financial liability concerns for the host municipality should aid in decision-making.”
Behind the scenes, there are a lot of legal and liability issues that factor into what it takes to make different types of shelters work, he noted.
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The New Hampshire Local Welfare Administrators Association Board of Directors recently unanimously approved an Ethics Resolution Guidance Agreement to better guide municipalities, establish best practices in fiscal accountability and encourage government support municipal to emergency accommodations, including overnight winter warming centers statewide.
The resolution also adds guidance to local municipal social services when determining residency regarding permanent and emergency housing placements from one home municipality to another.
Marsh said he hopes the guidelines clarify the residency of people accessing emergency housing and the responsibility of a person’s city or town of origin.
Marsh added that the Tri-Cities have become a “model of collaboration and innovation” across the state. He hopes these new guidelines “will sustain this forward momentum for the Tri-Cities and inspire other areas of the state to launch lifesaving and life-enhancing efforts that have yet to begin.” .