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Strafford County Commissioners announce a change to winter shelter

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The Strafford County Commissioners and Tri-City mayors are announcing a change to the winter shelter planned for the former Care Pharmacy building in Rochester. Due to unavoidable code and buildout considerations, the plan to host a shelter in that location would have delayed the opening to February 2021.

“We appreciate Frank Cassidy for stepping forward to lease his property as a temporary winter shelter,” said George Maglaras, Strafford County Commissioner. “Unfortunately, the amount of work and funding required for such a change of use would delay the project considerably, effectively eliminating half of the cold months.”

While the Care Pharmacy location and size is ideal, several issues would need to be addressed, including additional emergency egresses, ensuring the sprinklers were operational, piping for temporary showers, and additional bathrooms and security. In addition, the timing of the shelter opening would not coincide with the necessary planning board approvals and zoning variances to make it a viable option.

“There are many life and safety concerns that need to be considered when opening a shelter for more than two or three nights,” said Mayor Caroline McCarley, City of Rochester. “Rochester is committed to helping our most vulnerable residents, especially during the pandemic and cold weather months. However, this does not negate fire, health, and safety codes required to keep everyone safe. These clients deserve the same safety expectations as anyone else.”

“Simply relocating to an empty storefront is not as easy as it seems,” added Maglaras. “We need space to safely distance clients and provide access to a bus route. Also, it must be ADA compliant, include adequate bathrooms, and a kitchen.”

To help with decompression issues at area shelters due to COVID-19, County Commissioners and the Tri-Cities have been actively working on a temporary winter location for a homeless shelter since April. In addition to the Fidelity Task Force, area officials collaborated with a small group of community leaders to identify and visit more than 10 sites for a potential shelter before the Care Pharmacy offer. 

City officials are working on an alternative plan that would allow up to 30 people to be housed, starting November 1. Details of this plan are in the final stages of negotiation with the vendor. To ensure a temporary solution can be executed, officials are working with various partners to avoid unexpected challenges.

“We understand the immediate need and cannot continue to delay the opening of shelter when COVID-19 is on the rise and the weather is getting colder,” said Mayor Dana Hillard, City of Somersworth. “This backup plan will be an option for winter months, without interruption or temperature-dependent.”

The County will continue to contract services with the Community Action Partnership of Strafford County (CAPSC) for shelter operations and supportive services.  CAPSC provides housing and homeless services to over 1,000 clients annually. The agency is an active partner with the area shelters, welfare offices, and social service providers to help clients find and maintain housing. 

“With an incredibly tight housing market, this service is extremely important for Strafford County,” said Mayor Bob Carrier, City of Dover. “CAPSC provides the wrap-around services that help clients achieve housing by working with partner agencies, the state, and local landlords. With COVID-19 reducing the number of shelter beds available, and clients afraid to use shelters for fear of exposure, this potential new shelter coupled with wrap-around services is key to keeping everyone safe.”

Officials are planning a formal announcement of the new location and operation plan in two weeks. 

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