Berkshire Housing Shelter Looks To Reprogram After Fire

Aug 5, 2016

A housing shelter in Adams is working to reprogram itself after a June fire displaced residents and uprooted its staff.

The fire and subsequent water damage at the Louison House made the building uninhabitable. With damage estimated at 50 percent, Executive Director Kathy Keeser says 12 people living at the transitional shelter on Old Columbia St. were displaced.

“It was hard on the people who had to suddenly be moved,” Keeser said. “After you’re homeless and you’ve got your home now and then all of a sudden have a fire. They were all over in hotels and everything.”

Keeser says the 12 people have found other places to stay or have moved into the Flood House in North Adams. Keeser and her staff of about six full- and part-time workers are also moving into the former North Adams Housing Authority property that’s been vacant for about five years.

“But we’re pretty sure that it’s not de-leaded,” Keeser said. “So at the moment, we cannot take in families with children under 6.”

Keeser says the Flood House has space for 24 beds, a few more than the Louison House, but there is much work to be done to retrofit the space with door locks and setting up phone lines and internet for office work. 

“Our real plan is to move the main shelter base back to Adams to what people think of as Louison House,” Keeser explained. “We’re going to need help financially.”

Keeser says the goal is to raise $150,000 to get the Louison House, which is about 150 years old, back up to code and keep the Flood House open. Without launching a campaign yet, already about $22,000 and donated furniture have poured in. Noting a silver lining, Keeser says the fire gives the nonprofit a chance to reprogram itself to better fit the needs of the homeless community, which she says are different than when the organization formed about 25 years ago.

“For youth who are displaced…17- through 24-year-olds,” Keeser said. “We can also take time, as we’re rebuilding this, do we look at one of the two houses having an emergency shelter. We have funding for that and we place those people a lot of times in hotels and other locations and help them to get to the only emergency bed shelter in Barton’s Crossing in Berkshire County.”

The nonprofit also provides support so people don’t become homeless again. Keeser plans to expand that supportive housing program, which helps people manage their finances, at both locations. She and board member Mike Goodwin are hopeful the reorganization can also make the nonprofit more financially stable.

“Having two physically strong structures that are in good shape and that allows the staff of Louison House for both sites to really focus in on the programming needs and service needs for folks that we serve,” said Goodwin.

Louison operates on an annual budget of $400,000, which doesn’t include money for building maintenance, according to Keeser. Roughly $280,000 of that is government funding. According to the Hilltown Community Development Corporation, on any given night 653 people are homeless in Berkshire, Franklin and Hampshire counties. That 2016 figure is down 30 percent compared to last year’s number due largely to fewer people staying in hotel overflow units in Greenfield. Overall, the agency says the 2016 count is typical of the past several years. Executive Director Dave Christopolis says the high cost of housing and the loss of manufacturing jobs are among the causes of homelessness in western Massachusetts.

“The thing that’s really recently been a major problem has been the opiate epidemic,” Christopolis said. “Our shelter providers have reported that they’re just inundated with people who are really struggling with opiates.”

Louison House is planning a fundraising dinner at Mingo’s Sports Bar in North Adams August 11th.

For more information about Louison House contact Kathy Keeser at kkeeser@familylifesupport.org or call the office at 413-663-6323.