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Friday dance will raise money for shelter

Goal: Raise enough money to keep Overflow Shelter open into April

Editor’s note: At press time, Melinda Bussino was in the hospital after a reported massive heart attack on Feb. 25.

BRATTLEBORO—This Friday, people will be literally dancing in the aisles to support Brattleboro’s homeless.

That’s when Buddy Folly and the Experiments will return for their annual concert to help the area’s Overflow Shelter.

For well over a decade, “The Buddies” have kept audiences of all ages dancing to songs from the 1960s and 70s, plus a few sparkling originals written by every member of the band: Bill Conley on guitar, John Ungerleider on bass and Mike Nieckoski on the drums.

The Brattleboro Area Interfaith Clergy Association (BAICA) and WKVT-FM 92.7 are co-sponsoring the event, which will be held on March 2 from 6:30 p.m. until 9 p.m during Gallery Walk at the Robert H. Gibson River Garden.

All donations and proceeds from refreshments sold will go directly to support the Overflow Shelter.

Rabbi Tom Heyn of the Brattleboro Area Jewish Community, a member of BAICA, spoke of the cooperation that makes this event possible.

“This collaborative effort is yet another example of our community transcending boundaries and working together to make sure no one suffers from being cold or hungry during these winter months,” he said. “Our goal is to keep the Overflow Shelter open every night through April. [The community’s] support will help make that possible.”

Housed in the First Baptist Church on 190 Main St., the Overflow Shelter provides space when other facilities reach their capacities, such as when the Morningside Shelter is full, which it usually is.

The shelter also provides an option for those people who cannot follow the rules of Morningside, which will not accept persons actively using alcohol or drugs, or is a registered sex offender.

The Overflow Shelter is one of the many services provided by the Brattleboro Drop-In Center.

Melinda Bussino, executive director of the Drop-In Center, reports that during the winter of 2010-2011, 114 individuals used the shelter a total of 2,517 times.

“As we move through the current winter of 2011-12, we are seeing a 49-percent increase in the number of people we are serving,” Bussino said. “We are also seeing an increased level of need in those we serve. This winter, through Jan. 31, 2012, we had 90 separate people, all adults, stay at the Overflow, and we provided 1,500 bed nights of shelter.”

“All of this is done under the Drop In Center’s oversight, and at the Drop In Center’s expense,” Bussino continued. “For instance, we have paid $3,500 for oil for First Baptist Church, and have delivered many supplies, including three cases of bathroom towels, a case of toilet paper, two cases of hot cups, four cases of coffee, two cases of sugar, four cases of large trash bags, a half-case of light bulbs, and two large boxes of ice melt.”

The Drop-In Center uses the church space rent-free, and the local nonprofit is attempting to cover the church’s [related] expenses as it has done in past years.

“Overflow guests, volunteers, and staff are providing some cleaning and snow shoveling as well,” Bussino said.

The shelter provides not only a place to sleep, but also a hearty meal to the guests at the shelter.

Wednesday night meals are covered by Grace’s Kitchen, First Baptist Church’s own soup kitchen ministry. But providing meals for the other six nights is a mammoth project overseen by Barbro Hansson, minister of All Soul’s Church in West Brattleboro. Hundreds of local groups work to supply these meals.

“In February alone, at least 20 to 25 groups are supplying the meals at the Overflow Shelter,” Bussino says. “Each group does the cooking, provides the groceries, serves, and cleans up.”

Bussino estimates that there are around 60 to 75 homeless people in the Brattleboro area, and “these are not including people who resort to couch-surfing or those who use up 90 percent of their income staying at motels,” she says.

“There are people who stay there with no income, or perhaps have other issues that keep them on the streets like addiction or mental illness. However, others do have full-time jobs and simply don’t make enough money to afford housing.”

When the Overflow Shelter closes at 7 a.m., the Drop-In Center opens. The same seamless coverage happens when the Drop-In Center closes and the shelter opens, which means there is always a place for one to go in the winter months.

“They can come into the Drop In Center and take a shower or do their laundry or just hang out,” said Bussino. “Of course, everyone doesn’t chose this option. Some go to the River Garden, some to the library, and some go off to their jobs.”

“It is a mistake to stereotype the kind of people at the Overflow Shelter,” she said.

The Drop-In Center also staffs the Overflow Shelter. Its mission is to offer long-term case management for the homeless, with the goal to find permanent housing for the Overflow Shelter’s residents.

“There are four case managers at the Drop-In Center, and some who wear other hats, and two are part time” says Bussino. “ We work hard to cover the need.”

And where do homeless people who use the Overflow Shelter go when it closes in April?

“We try to find homes for many, but we can’t find them for all,” says Bussino. “ Many just go back onto the streets. Some go and sleep in their cars and tents.”

Tropical Storm Irene proved to be particularly challenging for people without a permanent residence. The Drop-in Center helped some of their clients replace five tents lost in the storm, along with camping gear and silver warming blankets.

The problem on homelessless sometimes seems neverending, but “We do our best,” she said.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #141 (Wednesday, February 29, 2012).

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