Group looking to open cold-weather homeless shelter in Laconia area this winter

LACONIA — A consortium of people led by members of N.H. Catholic Charities and the Unitarian Universalist Society Association of Congregations are looking into creating a cold-weather shelter for families somewhere in Belknap County.

Should a suitable place and some money be found, the shelter would be open in the winter months and be dry — meaning no alcohol or drugs would be allowed.

"So far we have no money and no place," said Len Campbell of Catholic Charities, who is leading the consortium.

The goal, he said, is to have a cold-weather shelter operational by October 15.

For about a year now there has been some discussion about opening a cold-weather shelter somewhere in the city that would be more temporary than the Carey House, which is operated by the Salvation Army and is more long-term transitional housing.

Some of the hurdles faced by the consortium are how to coordinate shelter services with local welfare officers, where a possible facility would go and how it would fit in with local zoning and fire ordinances, and perhaps most importantly, where to get the money and how to line up volunteers.

The plight of those who are homeless during the cold New Hampshire winters is one both public and private entities have been struggling with for years.

Right now, area welfare administrators and police departments last resource is to put homeless families in crisis into rooms at a local hotel. Increasingly, the Carey House is full and is unable to accommodate emergencies.

The money comes largely from local welfare budgets or, in the case of the Laconia Police, from the relief associations that are funded through donations and fundraisers.

Part of the consortium's research included reaching out to three areas in the state that have some kind of cold-weather shelter — Concord, Strafford County (Rochester) and Keene — and gathering information about their programs.

The Belknap County members have seemingly settled on a model similar to the one in Strafford County that provides for community services as well as temporary shelter.