By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — Despite encountering some unexpected hurdles, Colleen Garrity, the present of Belknap House, said on Thursday that the cold weather emergency shelter for families with children is scheduled to open on Monday, Feb. 13.
Garrity said that the furnace, which was anticipated to last through the winter, abruptly failed, and has been replaced along with two hot-water heaters, all at an unforeseen cost of some $10,000. But, she added that the kitchen, including the appliances and cabinetry, has been installed, and, through the efforts of many volunteers, much of the interior of the building has been painted. With new plumbing and wiring and the removal of asbestos and lead paint, she said, "We have a very, very safe building."
With a target of $25,000, the second annual fundraising drive collected more than $13,000 and the St. James Episcopal Church-Laconia last Sunday awarded a New Hampshire Episcopal Diocese Mission Resources Grant of $6,000 toward the project.
"It's been good, but we can always use more," Garrity said of the fundraising effort. "We're always fundraising. It's constant."
The shelter will have space to house six families, consisting of as many as 19 individuals. Only families referred by the welfare director of either the city of Laconia or one of the 10 towns in Belknap County will be housed at the shelter, which will be a "dry" facility, allowing no alcohol or drugs. The originating municipality will be responsible any costs or services associated with sheltering the families.
Belknap House will operate as a shelter in the cold weather months from October to May and as a hostel during the remainder of the year. The shelter will operate around the clock — 24 hours a day, seven days a week — from October until May. Garrity said that the annual operating budget for the facility is expected to fall between $110,000 and $120,000. She said that fees from the hostel are projected to contribute some $40,000 towards the operating budget.
Karen Welford of Laconia, who was among the founders of Better Together, will be the executive director with responsibility for overseeing and managing all aspects of the operation of Belknap House as well as for pursuing partnerships with local businesses, governments and civic organizations. Tammy Emery will serve as family support coordinator, responsible for assisting families overcome the challenge of homelessness and place them in transitional or permanent housing. The staff will be complemented with volunteers taking operational responsibilities as well as helping with family activities and children's programs.
Garrity said that while there have been referrals, at least two single women have inquired about finding shelter at Belknap House every week for months. "We expect to be very full very quickly, Garrity said.
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