ST. ALBANS CITY — Samaritan House Inc. has opened up a thrift store in the basement of Tim’s House, the emergency shelter located on Kingman Street.
The store officially opened it’s doors for the first time last Tuesday, and though there hasn’t been many customers yet, Samaritan House Executive Director Alicia Gay hopes it will make a difference for many people who once called the streets of St. Albans their home.
“It’s really not a for-profit store. It’s just to serve the community in a way that’s no longer being served,” Gay said.
For years low income Vermonters in St. Albans were assisted by a thrift store on Lake Street. Most recently, it was known as Zeno’s. The owner, Lisa Zeno, took over what once was a Salvation Army thrift shop, but this spring she was forced to go out of business.
Tim’s House already had a stockpile of clothing and coats in their basement and when Zeno’s closed it’s doors, the staff started tossing around the idea to open up their own building as an affordable store for people to get basic necessities.
“It just worked out that we had all this stuff in the basement, and we realized we could probably help people who need these things,” Gay said.
Most of the items, from coats, dresses, business suits, to dishes and housewares, are priced in between $1 to $5. But these prices serve more as a guideline.
“If someone is really needy, we’re just going to give them stuff,” Gay said.
Right now, the shelter is packed full with clothes, but Gay said they are always in need of home items. Silverware, mops, brooms and vacuums are all in high demand.
The shelter is also in need of volunteers-both during the day and at night. The thrift shop is open on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and workers are needed to serve customers. But for those who have previous responsibilities during the day, the shelter is offering an alternate way to serve.
“Right now we’re working to open up an overnight shelter for people who don’t qualify to come into the shelter, especially people who are sick or may have issues with heat,” Gay said.
This winter Tim’s House did a similar “low barrier” shelter during extremely cold nights, for homeless people who may not have been eligible for a temporary stay.
“Now we have some people in the community who are really sick, and the heat is going to effect them. So we’re trying really hard to get some volunteers to help us open this overflow shelter at least a couple days a week,” Gay said.
If enough manpower can be recruited, the hope is to keep this overnight shelters going on a long-term basis. The need is just there, Gay said, remembering the moment that spurred her to take action.
An elderly man in desperate need of a place to stay, sought out Tim’s House. Though he didn’t qualify for the shelter, Gay allowed him to sleep in the building’s vestibule.
One night, emergency officials were called to attend to a guest in one of the apartments upstairs. When EMT’s arrived, the man wasn’t able to move out of the way.
“Someone’s life was at risk,” Gay said. “After the incident we had no choice but to put the man on the street.”
“He got up and he was so upset. I think he was crying and it just killed me. So since then, we’ve been inviting him and others to take showers, and do wash, just so they can feel semi-human.”
There’s a soft spot in Gay’s heart for people in need, and it’s for this reason she hopes she can find community members willing to serve. The job would consist of a commitment of two nights a month, supervising the shelter.
“We’d just want somebody to check on people and make sure they are okay,” Gay said.
Several people in need don’t qualify for the shelter for various reasons, from a past criminal history or simply because of capacity. Between the short-term apartment homes and the shelter itself, the Samaritan House is currently providing homes for 35 people, while more than 100 remain on the waiting list.
With the help of the community, Gay hopes to one day have this overflow shelter be open every single night.
“There are a handful of people around town that could really benefit from this, so I’m hoping it will work.”
One thing Gay said she hears a lot is that these people choose this lifestyle. To that she answers, “Nobody would choose that.”
“There are a lot of circumstances that get these people to where they are, and it’s not always their own doing or because ‘they just want it’. Mental health plays a huge factor. All it takes is one life changing event, the loss of a job, the loss of a spouse, anything and it just spirals,” Gay said.
The fact that this could happen to anyone is just one of the many reasons Gay hopes to inspire community members to lend a hand, and help give fellow citizens a place to lay their heads. Though an everyday overflow shelter may be the goal, for now Gay hopes they can get people off the streets at least twice a week.
“The thing is, St. Albans is a small town, and you get to know all of these people,” Gay said. “To see somebody outside- it’s just-people shouldn’t have to live like that.”
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