BRATTLEBORO—“Compassion” and “dignity” were the words of the day on June 22 as the Windham & Windsor Housing Trust and Groundworks Collaborative celebrated the opening of Great River Terrace.
Located at the site of the former Lamplighter Motel on Putney Road, Great River Terrace will provide 22 apartments, plus a host of supportive services, for its residents.
It is the realization of a social service model known as permanent supportive housing, as the Trust and Groundworks teams up with Health Care and Rehabilitation Services to help families and individuals experiencing homelessness to get the support they need to get their lives together.
In her opening remarks at a reception and celebration in Great River Terrace’s new community room, Trust Executive Director Elizabeth Bridgewater contrasted the philosophy that created the new complex with the heart-wrenching scenes that Americans have recently witnessed at the U.S.-Mexico border.
“We live in a world where children are being separated from their parents and housed in tents and warehouses with no end in sight, but here, we welcome people home,” Bridgewater said.
“We live in a world where vulnerable people seeking a new life of safety and stability are treated as criminals and animals, but here, we greet vulnerability with compassion and support and with open hearts.
“Great River Terrace is the manifestation of this compassion and within these walls live hope and the abiding belief that every member of our community matters.”
Bridgewater, who succeeded Trust founding executive director Connie Snow, credited Snow with having the vision of “[wanting] to be part of the solution for individuals experiencing homelessness [and expanding] the impact the Housing Trust had already made to build a new community where support and opportunity were available right outside the door.”
Great River Terrace was the capstone of Snow’s three decades at the Housing Trust. She saw how well this new “housing first” model for addressing homelessness was working and, together with Groundworks and HCRS, found a way to bring it Brattleboro.
Gus Selig of the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board has collaborated with the Trust on many projects over the years, but he said the one principle that has guided all of them is simple: “Can you envision people you love living here?”
He called Great River Terrace a “simple and beautiful” way of addressing the problem of homelessness. He said the Housing Trust “has been at the forefront of the fight for dignity, and not just housing” and that this project “was a ripple of hope in a dark time.”
Josh Davis, executive director of Groundworks, said that when the Winter Overflow Shelter closed for the season in April, 30 people were left without homes. All that could be done was to give them tents and hope for the best.
“It’s ridiculous to think that was the only thing we could offer,” Davis said.
Now that there will be 22 new apartments available, Davis said those 30 people he handed tents to will be at the top of the list of people seeking to live at Great River Terrace.
“This project is designed to help the people who have gone the longest without stable housing,” Davis said, adding that the goal is to bring “stability, autonomy, and dignity” to those who have lived without it.
One of the apartments was open to visitors. The space is small, about 350 square feet, but it’s enough for a small kitchen area and living room in the front, with a small bedroom and bathroom in the back. Other apartments will have a studio layout, with a bedroom nook. All will be fully-furnished and come with an energy efficient heating system.
Bridgewater said that “successful supportive housing communities rest on a three-legged stool. One leg is made up of the funding required to build the homes where people will live, another leg consists of the rent subsidies needed to making living there affordable, and the third leg is the support to help individuals stabilize their lives and imagine a new future.”
It took a lot of work on the local, state, and federal levels. Much of the credit went to Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. He introduced legislation in 2001, when he was still a Congressman, to create a National Housing Trust Fund. It took until 2016 for it to finally be created, and Great River Terrace was the first project in the nation to tap into the fund.
Other funding for the more than $4 million project came from a variety of sources. St. Johnsbury-based Passumpsic Bank invested more than $2 million. The Vermont Housing and Conservation Board committed $450,000 in proceeds from the Housing Revenue Bond to the development, as well as $458,000 in federal HOME Program funds, and $642,460 in federal National Housing Trust funds.
As for the other two legs of the stool, Groundworks will provide support services that will focus on some of the day-to-day needs of each resident through the work of a full-time, on-site case manager. HCRS will provide mental health services through a part-time, on-site case manager, and the Housing Trust will provide a part-time housing-support coordinator to organize group resident activities and programs.
“The journey out of homelessness begins with a roof over your head, hope, and a team of people willing to help,” said HCRS Executive Director George Karabakakis.