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Brattleboro Motel May Get New Life As Supportive Housing For Homeless

Howard Weiss-Tisman
Windham & Windsor Housing Trust has an option to purchase the Lamplighter Inn motel in Brattleboro. The housing group wants to develop 22 apartments and devote 11 of those to long-term supportive housing for homeless individuals.

A housing group in Brattleboro wants to purchase a motel and build a supportive housing development with 22 new apartments. Eleven of those units would be devoted to long-term housing for homeless individuals.

The Lamplighter Inn sticks out like a battered sore thumb among the newer chain motels that have opened up along this commercial strip in Brattleboro. The 60-year-old motel has seen better days.

But Connie Snow, executive director of the Windham & Windsor Housing Trust, sees a future for the Lamplighter.

"The plan is to create 22 micro-apartments," Snow said. "Each one will have a kitchen and bath. We will build a community building ... and then offices for supportive services."

The Windham & Windsor Housing Trust has an option to purchase the Lamplighter to develop affordable housing and supportive housing for the homeless.

Supportive housing is long-term housing for the homeless where people stay as long they like while receiving physical and mental health care and other social services.

The housing trust has developed hundreds of affordable rental apartments throughout southeastern Vermont over the past 20 years. Snow says this project is different.

"This model is particularly good for people that need more intensive services, or services over a longer term — they're struggling with addictions, mental health; they've been living outside for a long time," Snow said. "So we had not come up with a successful way to serve this particular population."

The issue Snow highlights also concerned policymakers in Montpelier, who realized the state was spending way too much money putting people up in overnight motels. Instead, the state decided to divert funding towards long-term solutions like supportive housing.

A new report says Vermont needs at least 360 supportive housing units, and Snow says the Lamplighter project can make a difference in addressing homelessness around Brattleboro.

"I think the bottom line is that we want to be giving people the support they need to be successful and a place to call home. And we need this additional commitment of resources to get there." - Connie Snow, Windham & Windsor Housing Trust executive director

"We know how to solve this problem," Snow says. "I think the bottom line is that we want to be giving people the support they need to be successful and a place to call home. And we need this additional commitment of resources to get there. I think we know how to do it."

The report highlighted the work in Vermont among nonprofits willing to partner on ambitious projects like the one in Brattleboro.

Listen to the Vermont Edition discussion about the report on homelessness.

Josh Davis is the director of Groundworks Collaborative, which operates Brattleboro's only year-round homeless shelter. The group is working with the housing trust on the motel project.

Davis says his group could never take on the $4.3 million development project on its own.

Under the proposed plan, the housing trust will own and manage the new development, and Davis says Groundworks will help deliver services to the tenants.

"We're a basic-needs service agency," Davis says. "I think that we do that quite well. But we're not a housing developer or a business development organization. And so it's a real stretch for us to learn these processes that an organization like Windham [&] Windsor Housing Trust are excellent at. And so if they're able to develop the property, and then we bring what our strengths are, which are the services, to the project, it's a win-win for both."

Credit Howard Weiss-Tisman / VPR
The Lamplighter Inn includes two buildings. The project includes a community center and courtyard in the center. Social services will be offered from two offices in the community center.

People who find themselves homeless are usually dealing with a range of issues.

Davis says when people don't have a safe stable place to stay, it's hard to address anything else.

"And the idea is that not everybody needs intensive services, every day, all day," Davis says. "But over the course of a year or over the course of time, folks will come in and out of needing some support. If those services are on site, and there's a relationship there, people are more likely to access those services.

"And so then you can catch or work with somebody sooner on an issue, so it doesn't become an eviction and then they become homeless, and then they're back into the system, back on a waitlist, and it takes a couple of years to get back into housing."

Sadie Fischesser, the Agency of Human Services field director for southern Vermont, says state resources are always stretched thin and supportive housing gives the state a better chance of moving people out of poverty.

"It's very hard, for example, for case managers to find people in a variety of hotel rooms,"  Fischesser says. "And people may be at work, even if they are staying in the hotel room, or they may be in a hotel one night and tenting the next night. And when they're homeless, the stress level is so high that it's really hard to coordinate some of that for some of those folks as well."

Windham & Windsor Housing Trust has applied for a $449,000 Vermont Community Development Grant to move the project along.

And Snow says there are a number of other financial pieces of the puzzle that have to come into play to make it work.

If all of the funding comes through, Snow says work could start next year and the housing could come on line in 2018.

Howard Weiss-Tisman is Vermont Public’s southern Vermont reporter, but sometimes the story takes him to other parts of the state.
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