LACONIA — After nearly two years of examining the homeless situation in Laconia, a group of people representing various area social service agencies have determined there is a need for a cold-weather homeless shelter for families in the area.
Colleen Garrity is the president of Belknap House — a fledgling not-for-profit agency that is in the process of raising money for a building and property somewhere in or very close to Laconia. Once established, it will be open from October until May.
"Over the past five years we've seen the number of homeless families increase and it's made us feel quite helpless," Garrity said.
Currently there is one shelter, the Salvation Army-owned Carey House, that serves all of Belknap County and it has space for only three families at a time. As an outreach worker for St. Andre Bessette Catholic Church, Garrity works on the front lines of homelessness and is one of the first calls people in need of emergency shelter make.
"This is very real and it's not getting any better," she said.
Belknap House has a Website: https://sites.google.com/site/l2belknaphouse/ and a Facebook page. She said there are various subcommittees created and one of them is tasked with fund-raising.
So far, she said there have been some restaurant-sponsored fund raisers and a golf tournament scheduled for Lochmere Country Club on September 14. Garrity said they are still accepting entrants for the golf tournament and there are a few holes that still a sponsor.
Garrity said the initial goal is to raise $50,000 to $60,000 through fund-raising and grants so they can find a piece of property for consideration. She said before it could be used it would have to be ADA compliant and sprinkled. She said she hopes there will be some case work and life-skills services that will be provided by the shelter staff as well as shelter from winter's cold.
"We know this is a process," she said, adding that from the beginning of a similar shelter in Portsmouth until it became a reality took more than three years.
"We'll keep plugging away and keeping people aware of the problem in Belknap County," said Garrity.
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