Between homes at Harbor Place

Harbor Place Property Manager Dan Mendl prepares a room for a family with children at the shelter on June 17.
Harbor Place Property Manager Dan Mendl prepares a room for a family with children at the shelter on June 17.
By Heather McKim

Harbor Place was designed to provide a short-term shelter to those in need, with the hope being a better model than having the homeless scattered in motels. Since its opening 18 months ago, the temporary shelter has been the subject of ongoing concern.

A June meeting between town officials, Champlain Housing Trust, and representatives of agencies that refer people to the facility, was held to address some of the concerns related to the facility.

Town Manager Joe Colangelo said the town had expected Harbor Place would house women, children and families. Currently, there is a wide range of people being referred to the facility.

Department for Children and Families referrals include domestic and sexual violence victims, the homeless, and families and children. The Howard Center referrals include males and females who find themselves in-between housing. UVM Medical Center refers those transitioning from in-patient services into the community. Women Helping Battered Women refers women escaping domestic violence when the organization’s own facility is full.

Some referrals pose concerns. At the meeting, Police Chief James Warden pointed to one instance in which a thrice-convicted rapist was referred, but screened out from, being accepted to Harbor Place. He also pointed to the significant rise in theft at Tractor Supply Company and Kinney Drug as well as several other incidents involving police.

Balanced against these concerns are the successes – the families and children who have found their way to and through the facility.

Collette Lavalley, her son, and her partner found their way to Harbor Place after shuffling between motels for a while. Their former landlord gave them notice to vacate on the pretense of remodeling the rental, leaving them with no affordable housing option.

In addition to finding permanent housing within the next few weeks, Lavalley’s son graduated from high school during their time at harbor Place.

The Lavalleys gained a spot at Harbor Place through the Howard Center in August 2014. As they look forward to moving into an apartment building owned by Champlain Housing Trust, Collette Lavalley considers her family fortunate to have had access to Harbor Place even with the 28-day limit that requires guests to move out for one night to avoid establishing residency and, thereby, no longer being considered homeless.

“We feel safe here,” she said. “They have curfews. We’ve had absolutely no problems with anybody,”

One of the concerns for neighbors and businesses surrounding the facility has been that of increased need for police activity in the area. An ongoing issue for the town has been the safety of town residents as well as the increased strain on limited police resources.

There have been efforts made to support the safety of both Harbor Place guests and their neighbors. The facility, which has 22 family units and 34 singles, has 16 video cameras installed.
“Nobody gets on the property without us seeing it,” Dan Mendl, property manager, said.

Mendl said that the facility tends to be filled up throughout the summer. Often, there are a dozen or more children staying there.

“We do good work. We’ve had some hiccups, but it’s getting better every day,” Mendl said after pointing out the community garden, playground, and security fencing that keeps people from walking through the woods and onto the property unobserved.

Lavalley’s story is not the only success to come out of Harbor Place. Mendl said more than 150 people have been permanently housed after staying there.

As a result of the June meeting, Champlain Housing Trust will be working with referring agencies to make changes to referrals to help ensure less-than-desirable elements are kept out of the facility.

“It is important to have a transitional housing facility for people to get back on their feet,” Town Manager Colangelo said. “It is also important to make sure that happens without criminal activity coming along for a ride, too.”

Officials from Champlain Housing trust plan to talk with Shelburne officials again within the next month. Colangelo said this will likely not be a public meeting but, rather, a quick conversation between himself and Michael Monte, Champlain Housing Trust Chief Operating and Financial Officer. The outcome of that will be shared as part of the Town Manager’s report at a Selectboard meeting.