Cold weather doesn’t wait for bureaucracy.
A house in Hyde Park village, which was used last winter as a warming shelter for Lamoille County’s homeless people, hasn’t been able to open its doors this season because zoning officials haven’t ruled on an application for a conditional use permit filed in September by the building’s owner.
This week, others stepped in and opened their doors while Hyde Park village officials remain mum about their decision-making process.
On Monday, the Jewish Community of Greater Stowe opened the synagogue as a warming shelter.
That same day, Howard Manosh offered his old Plaza Hotel in Morrisville to people without a warm place to spend the night. The arrangement is temporary, as a permanent solution needs Hyde Park zoning approval.
“I tell my sons, we started here 60 years ago next spring. The town has been good to us,” Manosh said. “We’re glad to be of some kind of assistance.”
The hotel, in Manosh’s Northgate Plaza, shut down operations several years ago, but Manosh has maintained it and rented it for other purposes — the Lamoille County courthouse and Hyde Park Elementary School temporarily relocated there in recent years.
The Lamoille County Sheriff’s Department owns the yellow building in Hyde Park village that Sheriff Roger Marcoux opened as an emergency shelter last winter. He did this after religious leaders in Stowe, Hyde Park and Johnson opened “pop-up shelters” in their churches; Marcoux wanted to provide a more permanent place.
Volunteers from the faith community and other organizations handled stay-overs and dinner prep. After the shelter closed in April, Marcoux made numerous upgrades to the building.
Along with the facelift came a new name: Lamoille Community House.
According to Jacquie Mauer, the organization’s spokesperson, the shelter’s anticipated opening date has already come and gone. But demand hasn’t.
A Nov. 30 press release stated, “We are hearing from employers whose employees are sleeping in their cars in the parking lot. We are hearing about elderly neighbors living without heat and hot water. We know of individuals struggling with addiction and experiencing homelessness who need a place to stay where they are surrounded by positive influences and community support.”
Rabbi David Fainsilber of the Jewish Community of Greater Stowe said he was relieved Manosh has been so generous, particularly because the hotel will be a much more consistent, albeit temporary, place for a warming shelter. No one stayed over Monday night, even though the temperatures dropped well below zero, and Fainsilber thinks that’s because people didn’t get the notice in time.
The synagogue and other churches have religious services and other functions that don’t allow them to be open every night, but the hotel isn’t currently being used for anything else.
“One of the barriers in creating emergency shelters and why we’re trying to create a full-time place in one location is consistency and ease of use,” Fainsilber said.
For practical matters, people seeking shelter for the night ought to call Vermont 2-1-1 (that’s the actual three-digit phone number), the state’s information and referral hotline. Lamoille Community House provides the most up-to-date information about the warming shelter.
Hence the organization’s desire for Hyde Park zoning officials to green-light the permanent emergency shelter. Until this week, there was no shelter available in the county, and Marcoux said he’s already heard of one homeless man who got such a bad case of frostbite that he lost some toes.
Marcoux submitted his complete application for conditional use, renovations and a new sign on Sept. 28. Karen Wescom, the village zoning administrator, didn’t act on the application until Oct. 23, and the development review board didn’t meet until Nov. 15.
According to minutes from that meeting, the board met for 50 minutes before entering a deliberative session to talk about the application. As of press time, the board hadn’t met again, and Wescom said she doesn’t know when it will meet next.
Even if the review board approves the application, there’s a 30-day appeal process, so Lamoille Community House couldn’t open up its doors until after that period passed, nearly mid-January at the earliest.
Wescom was reticent to give any information about the process, and suggested it was a bad idea to ask board members about it, because it would “contaminate the process.”