Lamoille County’s sole homeless shelter can now operate around the clock. At least, that’s the assumption the shelter’s operators were working under.
Hyde Park village’s development review board gave the green light to the operators of the Lamoille Community House for the move.
The decision allows the shelter to provide service and a safe space for residents 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Previously, the shelter was permitted to operate as an overnight-only facility, with tenants required to go elsewhere during the day.
Hyde Park’s zoning board approved the application requesting the change, on a temporary basis, on Dec. 15; a hearing on the application was held Dec. 10.
“I’m just appreciative that we can move on, this is a lot more convenient for folks,” said Roger Marcoux, the founder and current landlord of the Lamoille Community House. Allowing residents to stay on-site all day is easier and safer for them, and for the staff and volunteers working at the shelter, he said.
The shelter typically closes for the season every April 15, and when it reopens next November the older permit — and reduced operating hours — will be back in place unless another change is sought.
Operating as a 24-hour-a-day shelter this winter was a priority for the Lamoille Community House’s new executive director, Kim Anetsberger, and her staff. With the COVID-19 pandemic resurgence in Vermont, shelter leaders felt it was vital to offer a place for its residents all day, every day, to limit their own potential exposure to the virus and to help ensure they wouldn’t spread it if they were infected.
To top matters off, many of the traditional locales where tenants of the shelter go during the day, like local libraries, are currently closed to the public because of the pandemic.
This desire for extended hours temporarily halted the opening of the shelter, which was scheduled to happen on Nov. 15. But, once it became clear there wasn’t another way to streamline the change and that the application to temporarily change the shelter’s zoning permit couldn’t be resolved without a hearing Anetsberger, Marcoux and the shelter’s board backtracked, deciding not to open for 24-hour-a-day service without the proper permit.
Instead, they eventually opened as an overnight-only shelter beginning on Friday, Nov. 27.
In the meantime, Marcoux found a daytime location for the five people allowed to stay at the Lamoille Community House under COVID-19 guidelines. Typically the shelter can house about 10 people, but that number was reduced during the pandemic.
Marcoux said that the decision by Hyde Park to allow the change came just in time, as the offsite locale he had procured was only available through the end of 2020.
Marcoux was hopeful that the new guidelines for hourly operation would go into effect immediately, allowing shelter residents to begin staying at the Lamoille Community House all day as 2020 turned to 2021.
That was the assumption he and the shelter operators were under when they began allowing tenants to remain onsite all day, rather than going to that other locale during the day, after they learned about the board’s decision in late December.
In the latest chapter of the shelter’s uncertain future, Vermont statute allows for a 30 day appeal process, the village’s zoning administrator, Karen Wescom, pointed out — it says, “no permit shall take effect until the time for appeal has passed.”
Under that timeline, the Lamoille Community House wouldn’t be able to offer 24-hour-a-day shelter until Jan. 15, if no appeal is filed.
On Wednesday, Marcoux said once the appeal period passes people will be allowed onsite during daytime hours.