By Tammy Daniels
04:20PM / Thursday, October 26, 2017
A new logo, designed by Jennifer Civello and reflecting the Rebuilding Hope campaign after a fire at Louison House last year.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The past year has been one of significant change for the Louison House. New director, new board members and, quite literally, a trial by fire for its Victorian headquarters.
So Thursday morning the nonprofit shelter for the homeless held its first annual breakfast meeting in some time to share what Louison House has been doing with the community and its many area partners.
What it's been doing can be summed up in its new logo: Rebuilding Hope.
"A lot's happened with our program the last year or so," board Chairman Michael Goodwin said. "What we hope to do today is to share some information, some highlights and some concerns. We want to answer questions so you can talk about our program."
Goodwin acknowledged he was preaching to choir to a morning gathering of dozens of community and social service agency leaders in Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art's Club B10.
"You understand our program, you understand what we do," he said. "Be part of the choir means singing to the community."
For nearly 30 years, Louison House's mission has been to reduce homelessness in North County and the circumstances that lead to it.
"You see the TV version [of homelessness] but the reality is it could be any of us," Executive Director Kathy Keeser said. "It's a matter of circumstance."
Louison House is there for people who have lost a job, lost a home, or just need shelter because of circumstances beyond their control. It offers 24-hour shelter; clothing, food and furniture; life skills training; referrals to support services; support in moving to permanent housing; tenant advocacy; career and education planning, and counseling.
Keeser said the community has been amazingly supportive of organization's mission. "I think we've all gotten away from the blame," she said. "People like to give back ... this community in particular gives back."
More than 400 people were serviced this past year, up from 288 in 2016, including families with children. The average daily census has been 18 1/2 residents. The agency will have served about 20,000 meals by the end of the year, 7,000 more than the year before, all on about $500 a month.
"So the need is there and a lot of it has to do with our location in North Adams," Goodwin said. "Certainly we've seen these numbers go up."
The basic needs are shelter, food and a place to rest, he said, then safety, a sense of community and building of self-esteem, gaining a job and a home.
During the past year, 102 residents took advantage of Louison House programs. All participated in financial literacy and cooking and community skills, and more than half in personal and service goals, along with housing applications and employment services. Of nearly 150 individuals, nearly half were moved into some type of supportive housing.
"There's a constant self-actualization which really is getting to the part where I can give back to others I'm comfortable with who I am," Goodwin said. "Our programs are workng and they're making a difference in people's lives."
In June 2016, three days after Keeser came on as the executive director, a fire broke out in the attic of Louison House on Old Columbia Street in Adams. The brand-new sprinkler system did its job but the building was heavily damaged by water.
Operations moved to the Flood House on Church Street in North Adams. Owned by the Housing Opportunities Inc. at the time, it was transferred to Louison House some months later. (HOI also transferred 111-113 Bracewell Ave. to the agency this past summer.)
The organization has been using Flood House and leased apartments, largely with the help of Charles Swabey of Belvidere Realty, to house its residents. More than $150,000 almost immediately supplied in local support, including a $25,000 commitment by Williams College. It was recently informed of nearly $900,000 in funding through two state programs that, with insurance money, will allow the rehabilitation of Louison House to bring it up not only to code but make it more functional to its mission.
The fire was a seen as a chance to rebuild, Goodwin said. "We're taking a 19th-century house and skipping the 20th century to get it into the 21st."
Once completed, and Flood House rehabbed next, the organization will have 27 units of rental housing -- 22 transitional and five supportive apartments -- with the ability to serve families with children, single men and women, and a fully accessible apartment on the ground floor of Louison House.
"Instead of rebuilding to where the walls were the day before the fire ... they are allowing us to build it to our needs within the footprint," Keeser said.
She also envisions have room for social service agencies to meet with clients at Flood House with the option for two more apartments in the building if expansion is need.
"We're not alone and all of our successes are because of our community partners," Keeser said.
In other business, the board also voted in a budget of $458,300 for fiscal 2018. It's starting the year with a balance of $52,000 that Goodwin credited to Keeser and her staff's finanical efforts. The budget is up about $12,000 but is projected to end the year with about $7,000.
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