Legion commander proposes using old nursing home as homeless shelter

Published Date: Thursday, 09 August 2012 16:56 Conway Daily Sun

OSSIPEE — New Hampshire’s homeless need more shelters — and Carroll County’s old nursing home might be a good place to build one, says the commander of Conway’s American Legion Post 46.
On Wednesday, American Legion Post 46 commander Larry Ayres and building contractor Adam Mitchell met with county commissioners to discuss their proposal.
Commissioners David Sorensen and Dorothy Solomon encouraged the two to come to the county’s legislative delegation meeting on the morning of Aug. 27 to ask lawmakers for permission to use the old building.
“I think you’re on the right track,” said Sorensen. “I’d like to see you follow up.”
In Carroll County government, a group of 14 state representatives, called the delegation, passes county budgets, which commissioners manage with help from department heads. The delegation would have final approval for this project.
The proposed shelter would handle homeless from all over the state, said Ayres. As of July 25, there were 14 homeless people looking for assistance in Conway and there were 17 homeless veterans in Carroll County, according Ayres.
“We have people in Manchester and Tilton living out of tents on the front lawn of the homeless shelters because there is no room for them,” said Ayres. “It’s really important to myself and also the legion itself that we take care of these people.”
There are also numerous homeless people in Carroll County who have remained hidden.
“It really breaks my heart to see some of the situations right in this area alone, said Ayres. “There’s people in the woods living out of their leantos they built out of broken sticks.”
In a phone interview, Maureen Ryan, administrator of the Bureau of Homeless and Housing Services, said Carroll County is the only New Hampshire county without a homeless shelter. Shelters around the state served just under 5,000 people in 2011 and in the winter the need for shelter exceeded supply of beds. The homeless have few options in northern New Hampshire.
“It’s probably needed,” said Ryan of the proposed Ossipee shelter. “How hard it’s going to be (to set up) depends on the community response.”
The Bureau of Homeless and Housing Services’ outreach program served 2,500 homeless people who could not find shelter. The goal of the outreach program is to help homeless people get off the streets or out of the woods.
Ayres said he and Mitchell looked at building a shelter on other properties but they didn’t work out. For instance, the post’s property in Conway has a deed restriction that says the part of the property that’s not in use has already been committed to benefit local children. Another property in Meredith didn’t work because of financing issues.
The old nursing home needs some rehabilitation but Ayres and Mitchell believe they can raise the money to fix it through grants and donations. They are proposing to use the building for at least 10 years. They have brought in contractors to look at the building. It’s in good enough shape — despite some problems with the antiquated electrical system and the roof that’s been patched repeatedly over the years.
“What we have is a perfectly good structure,” said Mitchell of the old nursing home.
In total, about $1.3 million would be needed to rehabilitate the building,” said Mitchell, adding he couldn’t construct a building like that for less than $10 million. “You’ve got a perfectly good building for what we’re looking to use it for.”
The building is already handicapped accessible, said Mitchell. Replacing the roof would cost somewhere between $500,000 and $700,000. For now, the roof could just be patched as needed, said Mitchell.
The homeless shelter would encompass two wings, the kitchen, the dining area and partial use of the center core. Two units would be reserved for families with up to eight members. In total, the men propose to house up to 58 people.
Before the shelter was proposed, some lawmakers said they wanted to tear the wings off the old building.
The men intend the shelter to function as a non-profit organization that wouldn’t take ownership of the building.
According to Ayres, U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen’s office told him that grants could cover up to 65 percent of the construction costs. Ayres believes the community can come up with the remainder.
Ayres proposes to approach the towns of Carroll County to ask them if they’d support the effort. The two say towns could save money by sending homeless to their proposed shelter rather than paying for a few days at local hotels and “meal tickets.”
Mitchell said sending homeless people to a hotel for a few days doesn’t accomplish anything because the homeless don’t have time to better themselves by getting jobs or training.
Ryan said shelters are cheaper than hotels but it’s unclear if the same would be true for the proposed Ossipee shelter.
Ayres said Solomon suggested the idea of using the old nursing home as a homeless shelter without knowing he was searching for a place to build one.
“You couldn’t have put a bigger smile on my face because this is what I have been trying to do for four years now and have been striking out everywhere,” said Ayres to Solomon. “It’s the perfect opportunity.”
Commission candidate Kathleen Maloney, who is a veteran who has worked in homeless shelters, said shelters need to provide more than housing. They also need to provide other things like job training, medical and dental care. Maloney is also a selectman in Ossipee.
“You are, in effect, going to be their parents giving them a place to live, food, clothing, etcetera,” said Maloney. “There’s a lot more to it than just letting them sleep in a building.”
Ryan said there’s no legal requirement for a shelter to provide counseling or anything else like that, but it would make sense to provide those services so that the homeless person has a better chance of becoming self-sufficient.
Ayres and Mitchell believe there are plenty of people in the community who could help provide social services at the shelter. They have been in touch with Conway’s general assistance officer and the Veteran’s Administration. In addition, Ayres says he looks forward to working with the Blue Loon transportation service.
Rep. David Babson (R-Ossipee) also encouraged the men to come to the delegation meeting. He said lawmakers could be the big stumbling block. Babson is leaving the legislature at the end of his term and is now running for county commissioner.
“You’ve got to convince a majority of 14 people that this is what to do with the building,” said Babson.
Solomon said the proposed shelter is already on the delegation’s agenda.
Another commission candidate Jack Rose suggested the two bring the delegation firm numbers to prove there is a need for a homeless shelter.
Former commissioner, Chip Albee said he’s heard there are about 3,000 homeless people in New Hampshire’s northern three counties. Albee, who is running for state representative, said the two will need to figure out what their cost per bed will be and how much the towns are paying hotels. Further, Albee said the proposed shelter couldn’t sustain itself by solely relying on money from towns based on figures Ayres provided.
“You’re going to have a cost to build this thing and you are competing against the commercial hotels, and the savings you will realize for the towns is going to be the difference between those two numbers,” said Albee.
The core of the old nursing home contains the county’s wood pellet boiler system for the new nursing home, Mountain View Community. The old building has also been proposed as a new location for Carroll County’s branch of the University Cooperative Extension Service, which is now in Conway.
A few months ago, the commission and the delegation discussed converting the old nursing home into a homeless shelter for veterans. At the time, Solomon said there were 650 to 1,300 homeless veterans in
New Hampshire.
But Rep. Frank McCarthy (R-Conway) disagreed. A number of years ago he was involved with trying to create a local veterans’ shelter and it didn’t work because no homeless veterans showed up within six months.
McCarthy has long been known as an advocate for veterans and has served as the commander of the American Legion in North Conway for a decade.
“I appreciate the concern of the commissioner but I believe the concern is much exaggerated,” said McCarthy, who couldn’t be reached for comment for this story.


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