By Tammy Daniels
05:58AM / Monday, October 16, 2023
Director Kathy Keeser addresses the annual meeting last week, the first time it's been in person since 2019.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Louison House has been providing temporary shelter for more than 30 years. Now it's looking for a more permanency as the need for emergency and transitional housing has grown.
And it's going to need support from its partners and city officials to overcome resistance to the idea, Executive Director Kathy Keeser said at the shelter's annual meeting last week at the Green on Main Street.
The nonprofit housed more than 200 people in the past year. Louison House has a good relationship with the motels it's been using in Williamstown but it's not enough, said Keeser.
"We need to get a building and that's what we're looking down the future, to be able to find a place, preferably centrally located for people as possible," she said. "So that we can have a shelter so that people can have temporary housing that's safe and we can get them through."
Keeser said the agency spent around $250,000 this year on emergency motel placements and expects to spend close to $265,000 in the coming year. That's about two-thirds of its emergency funding.
And while the funding seems secure for the next decade, housing people in motels comes with problems that a permanent location would solve since it would be staffed and have security. Keeser said she's been in talks with Mayor Jennifer Macksey, who attended the meeting, and local developers.
One project moving forward is young adult housing in a building the nonprofit owns on Bracewell Avenue
"We kept it permanent supportive housing for a few years and then we realized it needed lots of work," Keeser said. The building is being renovated into a number efficiency units and a couple larger units for youth ages 18 to 25.
Louison House has also helped more than 600 people with housing assistance this year and provided 64 with financial assistance and household goods to move into housing. Another 250 received passes for the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority and hundreds of others were aided in making out applications and connected to other resources. Permanent supportive and transitional housing was also used at Flood House and Terry's Place.
Last year was the nonprofit shelter's first million-dollar budget; this year, it's anticipating $1.3 million as it expands programming, including in Pittsfield.
"Our biggest thing is really the day-to-day emergencies that come up for people that we've considered neighbors, emergency supportive services," said Keeser. "That's what we're doing all the time."
Two people caught in those emergency situations are now members of the advisory council resurrected earlier this year.
Local historian Paul W. Marino suddenly found himself without shelter when he returned home from surgery rehabilitation to four inches of water in his basement.
"Louison House is the organization that took me in and gave me a place to stay while my house was being put to rights," he said. "And I was very impressed with the organization and the staff.
Marino was invited to join the council and created some informational pamphlets that display his humor.
"I'm very glad to be on the committee," he said. "It's a great way of giving back to the organization that helped me and it's also a way of helping new people that were coming in."
The other member had lost his apartment several years ago when his building was shut down by code enforcement. Louison House took him in at midnight and found him temporary shelter.
"I had already, slowly over 40 years, become a hermit, virtually a shut-in," he said, with no understanding of the housing industry or how to get help. "But most of all, I was just frightened and hopeless."
Louison House helped get him into the Adams Housing Authority.
"I'd like to thank Kathy Keeser and all the members of Louison House for their grace in the eye and my storm," he said.
Keeser said the nonprofit would not be able to do the work it does without the help of its many partners — whom she called out during the meeting — and the hardworking staff.
"Louison House is not an easy job, it's not an easy place to work," she said. "But it's our partners who get us through everything."