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Northern Berkshire Redirects Attention Towards Growing Homeless Population

JD Allen
Residents flock to September's Northern Berkshire Community Coalition meeting to get an update on the housing workgroup and assess the needs of the community.

A new working group has convened to address the growing homeless population in northern Berkshire County. A much-needed shelter is reopening after a fire last year.

In June 2016, the Louison House in Adams, was forced to close after a fire caused $360,000 of damage.

Executive Director Kathy Keeser says it’s the only homeless shelter in northern Berkshire County, serving men, women and families.

The Turner House veterans’ shelter closed down last year.

“We have to serve everybody in one building,” Kesser says. “It’s considered transitional housing.”

With concern about homelessness growing, the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition recently hosted a housing forum. Out of that emerged a working group to connect residents and other community groups with support services, led by Christa Collier, executive director of the Berkshire United Way.

“There is a need, and they are often posed with – they don’t know what to do specifically besides from reaching out to Kathy and saying ‘Help,’” Collier says. “And we know that one agency can’t bear the burden alone.”

The working group shares information with support groups and central Berkshire agencies to connect residents to countywide services.

The Northern Berkshire Community Coalition is looking at creating additional working groups to focus on outdoor recreational infrastructure, healthcare, food security and education, among other topics.

Meanwhile, at the Louison House, all damages were covered by insurance, and donations since the fire reached roughly $100,000, but Executive Director Keeser says it wasn’t not enough.

That is, until the state Department of Housing and Community Development kicked in $867,000, in August.

“What it will do is, it will rebuild our shelter,” Keeser says. “The building was old, and there was things not done up to it and it’s definitely behind code. They started building it in 1989 and the codes were different and things we kind of got by on. So, look at the old boiler heat system.”

The state aid, part of the Affordable Housing Trust Fund and Housing Innovations Fund programs, is in the form of an interest-free loan.

Keeser says the shelter the non-profit provides is part of an affordable housing model.

“But essentially if you work with the state on that and you keep within the affordable housing range and are very careful about serving the population you said are lower income, and in our case homeless, then they work with you on it. It’s not the same as a mortgage on a house that you pay each month,” Keeser says.

After the fire, the non-profit quickly acquired the Flood House facility in North Adams from the North Adams Housing Authority for just $1.

In North Adams, the organization has helped more than 80 people find transitional housing. Keeser says there are probably hundreds going underserved.

“We do not have enough,” Keeser says. “So very clearly there needs to be more in north Berkshire.”

State funds will be used to upgrade the Flood House, too.

“So, our 22-bed shelter will be redone,” Kesser says. “In the building, will also be, on the third floor, a two-bedroom apartment and, on the first floor, a handicapped apartment along with handicapped accessibility for residents – you know all of those updates. And then at our building in North Adams, we’ll have two two-bedroom apartments and one one-bedroom apartment.”

The Louison House in Adams is scheduled to reopen sometime this fall.

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