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Closed Hotel Offers Shelter In Lamoille County

Brian Palmer holds a flyer he is distributing to people in need of shelter in Lamoille County.
Amy Kolb Noyes
Brian Palmer holds a flyer he is distributing to people in need of shelter in Lamoille County. It provides information about Lamoille Community House.

After about a year of preparation, a homeless shelter opened in Lamoille County last week. But it’s not where organizers had planned, and the work to open cold weather emergency housing has turned out to be incredibly complicated.The plan had been to open the Lamoille Community House in Hyde Park, and operate the emergency shelter throughout the winter. But the zoning permit application process with the village of Hyde Park has dragged on for months. A permit was issued this week, but there is still a 30 day appeal period before the shelter can open its doors. That's the best case scenario, assuming no appeals are filed. Meanwhile, people with nowhere else to go are camping out in the cold.

"I know where there's about 15 to 20 people that are out, still outside," said Brian Palmer.

Palmer has been trying to find the people who are living in the woods around Morristown and Hyde Park to let them know the shelter plans have changed. Now the shelter is running out of the closed Plaza Hotel, in Morristown.

The exterior of a closed hotel, now operating as a homeless shelter, in the Northgate Plaza in Morristown.
Credit Amy Kolb Noyes / VPR
The Lamoille Community House is now, temporarily, operating out of this former hotel in Morristown's Northgate Plaza.

Palmer held a stack of flyers with information on the new shelter location. He was handing them out to people he knew were sleeping outside.

Before the Plaza Hotel opened its doors, Palmer himself was sleeping in snowbanks, which he said was warmer than the open air on cold nights.

A sign on a door that says Welcome To Lamoille Community House. Please Ring Bell.
Credit Amy Kolb Noyes / VPR
Shelter guests are being directed to the back door of the hotel.

Palmer was born and raised in Morristown. He grew up hunting and he says he knows how to survive outside. But, he says, there are plenty of people in the woods without his experience.

He says getting the word out about the new shelter location is one thing, but some people are also reluctant to accept the help.

"And there’s so much help that people will give ‘em," Palmer said, if only people are willing to accept it. But, he said, some people without a place to sleep would prefer to remain "inconspicuous."

Palmer was given the job of chief marketer by shelter manager Jacquie Mauer.

"It's really cold out and … to be homeless and living outside in winter in Vermont is an emergency," Mauer said.

Last winter, Mauer was a volunteer with an interfaith coalition that offered shelter in religious sanctuaries around the county. Lamoille County Sheriff Roger Marcoux got involved with the group, and came up with an alternative solution — the one currently slogging through the zoning process.

His department owns property across from the Sheriff’s Office in Hyde Park Village. The department uses the property's garages and other outbuildings for storage and vehicle maintenance. But there’s also a small house the department wasn’t using.

"Meanwhile, I’m heating this building," Marcoux explained. "And it just seemed to make a lot of sense to maybe have one location that these people could stay."

Lamoille Community House shelter manager Jacquie Mauer stands in the Hyde Park shelter's newly renovated kitchen.
Credit Amy Kolb Noyes / VPR
Lamoille Community House shelter manager Jacquie Mauer stands in the Hyde Park shelter's newly renovated kitchen.

That’s how the Lamoille Community House came to be. Last winter Marcoux got an informal nod of approval from the village and opened the door for the interfaith group to set up the shelter.

"And I think we had maybe 600 bed nights of use. ... And it was very rewarding for all of us to help folks out that were in need," he said.

It worked out so well that Marcoux and the interfaith coalition spent the warmer months formalizing the arrangement.

The Sheriff’s Department fronted the money to renovate the house. They formed an official committee, signed a contract with a shelter organization in Barre to act as a fiscal sponsor, applied for grants and hired staff. They’re also coordinating with local social service agencies.

Marcoux says the zoning process has been especially frustrating, since it’s not a controversial issue in the village.

A yellow house covered in snow that is awaiting approval to be the Lamoille Community House, a homeless shelter.
Credit Amy Kolb Noyes / VPR
The Lamoille Community House, also locally referred to as "the yellow house," has been granted a permit to operate as a shelter. However, there is a 30-day comment period before the shelter can open its doors.

Meanwhile, Marcoux met with Howard Manosh, owner of the closed hotel in Morristown. Manosh agreed to open up hotel rooms until a valid Hyde Park permit is in hand.

Morristown’s zoning office has said that as long as there’s some amount of money exchanging hands, the state rooms and meals tax is paid and hotel occupancy rules are followed, then the shelter can operate under its current zoning status as a hotel.

That’s good news for Brian Palmer and the other people he’s met and helped out of the woods of Lamoille County.

"Being a Vermonter, you survive. It’s not like you just came out of the city," Palmer said, with a chuckle. "Don’t throw them out in the woods. They won’t last."

Amy is an award winning journalist who has worked in print and radio in Vermont since 1991. Her first job in professional radio was at WVMX in Stowe, where she worked as News Director and co-host of The Morning Show. She was a VPR contributor from 2006 to 2020.
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