Homeless coalition will use grant to increase capacity


BENNINGTON >> The Bennington Coalition for the Homeless aims to use $191,400 in recently awarded grant funding to increase the number of people it can serve.

Details of the project are still being finalized, according to Executive Director Christopher Oldham. But its goals are in line with state efforts to move towards using alternatives to motel vouchers for emergency housing.

"We want to make sure people don't become a repeat participant," Oldham said Wednesday. "Our goal is to get families and individuals off of the streets and give them the tools for them to secure permanent housing."

To that end, the organization is in the planning stages for a project that would increase its capacity and expand its programming, he said. Oldham said services provided by the coalition and similar organizations are better at helping people who are homeless than the motels.

"Even though [the vouchers] get people off the streets when shelters are full, they lack services like long-term case management," Oldham said.

The $191,400, which Oldham said will be released to the organization for the fiscal year starting July 1, comes from the state Office of Economic Opportunity's Housing and Opportunity Grant Program (HOP). He said each year, the HOP grant is a significant portion of the organization's funding, representing just under a third of its total operating budget.

The coalition was awarded $132,000 last spring for the current fiscal year. Oldham said he asked for additional funds this year, given that the state is seeking alternatives to the voucher system.

It's the Department for Children and Families' General Assistance (GA) program that offers emergency assistance for eligible individuals in the form of motel vouchers. Per state statute, they're given out by Economic Services Division offices if no other emergency housing is available. DCF projects roughly $3.1 million to be spent on motel vouchers by the end of the fiscal year on June 30.

Oldham said new approaches are needed when addressing the statewide and local homelessness issue.

"We can't keep doing business as usual," Oldham said. "I think that by getting this grant, that's a sure sign the state is endorsing what we're doing."

Contact Edward Damon at 413-770-6979


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