By TIM GOODWIN
For the last three years, the stress for Ellen Groh has been noticeable – at least when the idea of cold weather got brought up.
Since the cold-weather shelters, housed at South and First Congregational Churches, closed up shop, it was a constant worry for Groh, executive director of the Concord Coalition to End Homelessness, as to how the city’s homeless would make it through those brutally cold winter nights.
Luckily, the Friends Program and St. Peter’s Church had stepped up to help since, but without a permanent solution, it was like a scene out of Groundhog Day each and every year.
“It was stressful for everyone,” Groh said.
But that has all changed thanks to the new permanent emergency winter shelter that is nearing completion.
So instead of meetings and discussions trying to figure out what to do for the upcoming winter, the coalition can actually focus on its mission – to end homelessness.
“It wasn’t part of the coalition’s plan, to make a permanent shelter,” said coalition board member Greg Lessard.
But before turning the page and going all out on the ultimate goal, the coalition wants to let loose a little. Not only is the winter shelter nearing completion, but the coalition is marking 10 years of existence in 2018. A perfect reason to celebrate.
On May 23 (next Wednesday), the coalition is hosting a free community event at the Concord Homeless Resource Center, 238 N. Main St.
The event begins at 5 p.m. when the Concord Food Co-op Cafe fires up the grill and offers complimentary hot dogs (including vegan and vegetarian options) with all the fixings, chips and a beverage. So already you have a good reason to attend.
But in all seriousness, the real reason you want to go is to support the coalition and its mission. The program begins with brief remarks at 5:45 p.m. by Groh and Mayor Jim Bouley, followed by the ceremonial ribbon-cutting at 6.
“That shelter was funded and made possible by the community,” Lessard said.
There will be a long list of folks to thank, including Jonathan Halle of Warren Street Architects and Gary Chicoine Construction, both of whom are doing work for cost. And many more.
“Trying to save every penny that we can,” Groh said.
While the shelter won’t be 100 percent complete, it will be close enough for the celebration. Plus, they have a couple months to cross off items on the punch list, like installing the bunks and bins – both of which they’re still fundraising to purchase.
“This was a long time coming for this community,” Lessard said.
The original goal was to be done in January, but it didn’t make sense to swap the entire operation during the middle of winter.
“As soon as we made that decision, we took the foot off the gas,” Groh said.
At the end of the ceremony, community members are invited to take informal tours of the new shelter and the resource center, which provides assistance to 40 to 45 people per day.
The shelter is as basic as it comes. It’s one wide open room big enough to accommodate up to 40 people, along with bathrooms and an office with shelves to house belongings.
“It’s an extremely efficient use of space,” Groh said. “There’s not an inch wasted.”
The shelter will likely open in mid-December, but let’s enjoy the summer months before the new digs are needed for the homeless community – one that the coalition is working to eliminate.
“It’s necessary and vital, but it’s not the answer,” Groh said. “Shelters are just a bandaid and not a permanent solution.”
There is no parking available at the resource center. Parking is available nearby on Franklin Street, at St. Peter’s Church on North State Street and at First Congregational Church. For those with difficulty walking, the coalition has permission to drop people off at Friendly’s, across the street from the resource center, but attendees are asked not to park there. Please do not park, or drop people off, at the Concord Mart and the Concord Car Care directly next door. Concord police will be providing a crossing area at Friendly’s.
For more information, visit concordhomeless.org.