Group home director urges commissioners to keep shelter
by Peter McGuire, Staff Writer Sun Journal April 24, 2014
PARIS — The only all-male homeless shelter in Oxford County may be forced to close if county commissioners decide not to renew a lease for the space with Rumford Group Homes, according to the nonprofit's executive director, Alan Monier.
The shelter is on the second floor of a county-owned, two-story house on Western Avenue. Offices housing the Oxford County Sheriff's Office criminal investigations unit occupy the first floor.
Monier, in a presentation to commissioners Tuesday, said Rumford Group Homes' budget is spread thin with the three emergency shelters it already operates in Oxford County. The other two are in Rumford and Norway.
County commissioners are weighing whether to renew a lease agreement for Oxford County's only all-male homeless shelter on Western Avenue in Paris. The shelter is on the second floor; the Oxford County Sheriff's Office's Criminal Investigation Division is on the first.
Finding a new facility to move the men's shelter to is not an option, he said.
"We're running at a $50,000 loss a year, we go out and fundraise that," Monier said. "To take on another project is going to be too much to deal with ... it would mean the loss of the single men's shelter in Oxford County."
The apparent incompatibility of the building's dual roles is the central concern of officials, county Administrator Scott Cole told Monier.
There have been no major incidents at the building, Cole conceded, but second-floor windows are occasionally left open, trash sometimes piles up and there is regular traffic to and from the building.
Those conditions are normal in a housing unit, but are not ideal in a building where sensitive criminal investigations also take place, Cole said.
"Is it problematic? No. Is it ideal? No, it is not," he said.
Cole said he recommended that commissioners terminate the lease, and said Sheriff Wayne Gallant agreed.
The detectives' offices would probably take over the space if commissioners decide not to renew a lease, Cole said, responding to a question from Commissioner Dave Duguay.
Rumford Group Homes has rented the space since 2004. Its second five-year lease runs out in October. The nonprofit pays no rent or utilities, but is responsible for upkeep on the building. According to Monier, Rumford Group Homes has invested $40,800 in upgrades to the heating and fire-suppression systems since its first lease.
Since 2007, the shelter has recorded 3,241 bed nights, Monier told commissioners. Homeless men have spent 160 bed nights at the shelter so far this year, he said.
Rumford Group Homes does not allow felons to stay at the shelter and clients are supervised by Rumford Group Homes employees, Monier said. The agency aims to limit stays at the shelter to 30 days, but some clients stay as long as 60, he said.
The Criminal Investigation Division has been housed in the building since at least 2009. A first-floor office included in the lease for an Rumford Group Homes case worker was removed after detectives expressed concern about sharing the space, Monier said.
Because of the presence of the CID offices, the Western Avenue shelter actually has far fewer issues than some of the family shelters the group operates, he told commissioners.
Commissioners are still deciding whether to renew the group's lease.
During Tuesday's meeting, Cole said if the shelter stays where it is revisions to the lease terms would be required. Commissioner Duguay suggested that reducing the lease term to one year could provide a trial period to see if concerns could be addressed.
Commissioners offer use of the building as an in-kind donation to Rumford Group Homes. At a meeting in February, Cole suggested the county might be able to provide more appropriate assistance to the group, but was vague about what type of assistance it might be prepared to offer when asked by Monier on Tuesday.
Duguay suggested financial assistance could be an option, but noted that it had not been factored into the county's 2014 budget.