LACONIA — A wintertime homeless shelter is one step closer to opening after the proposed facility received approval from a city board.

The Zoning Board of Adjustment on Monday unanimously approved granting a special exception to Isaiah 61 Cafe to operate the shelter at 100 New Salem Street.

The vote came after an hour-long public hearing during which Isaiah 61 President Dawn Longval explained the need for the shelter. Neighbors and other members of the public spoke both in favor and in opposition to the proposal.

Longval said the new facility would be a low-barrier, cold-weather shelter, open to anyone, including people with active substance misuse.

The shelter will be located in the space formerly occupied by Pitman’s Freight Room event venue, adjacent to the cafe.

The plan is for the new shelter to operate from December through March seven days a week.

The hours would be from 8 p.m. to 8:30 a.m. with no one admitted after 9 p.m. Those coming in for the night would need to have their personal belongings placed in secure lockers during the entirety of their stay, a restriction which is designed to prevent them from having access to any contraband.

Longval has proposed that the shelter be allowed to accommodate up to 30 people, but Planning Director Dean Trefethen said the occupancy allowed would be set by the Fire Department after it inspects the premises.

The ZBA granted the special exception on the conditions that a fence be erected between the property Isaiah 61 and the abutting property, and a requirement that the operators would have to come back to the board if the city receives too many complaints about the facility.

The proposal still needs to go to the Planning Board for approval. The earliest the Planning Board will be able to act on the application will be in early January, Trefethen said.

Public comment was almost evenly divided between those in support of the shelter and those opposed, Trefethen said.

Donna Clairmont, who lives next door at 104 New Salem St., told the board about the ongoing problems she has experienced from homeless people and others who frequent the Isaiah 61 Cafe, which provides a daytime haven on weekdays for those who want a cup of coffee, a warm meal, or a hot shower. She said that some who have wandered into her yard have been disrespectful, and that items in her yard have been stolen.

In the application, Longval, who operates Isaiah 61 along with her husband Dave, said they seldom have had to call the Police or Fire departments since the low-barrier day shelter opened three years ago.

Clairmont, however, said the Police and Fire departments have been to Isaiah 61 numerous times over the years.

Trefethen said the concerns by neighbors figured heavily into the board’s deliberations, but it ultimately voted 5-0 to grant the special exception after about 15 to 20 minutes of discussion.

(1) comment

Choule58

I can understand the concerns of neighbors but also understand the needs of the homeless people who are human & deserve a warm place to sleep. With the factors of no places to rent they have little to no choice of where to go . Thinking that the fence is a great idea & will pray for these folks that they have food in their stomachs & a warm place to rest their heads . It’s very sad that most will lose their pets d/t no place to live . I wouldn’t want to leave my pet outside in the freezing cold to die . It’s not right .

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