A Safe, Warm Interim Home

Volunteers of America Family Shelter photo

A recent survey of homelessness in Binghamton found that on a given night, people from 207 households lacked a safe place to stay. To help meet that need, Volunteers of America (VOA) Upstate New York operates eight residential programs in Binghamton, including a shelter for homeless families and homeless female veterans.

Staff at that shelter help families with food, clothing and personal items. They also develop plans to keep children in school and get families back on their feet.

The seven apartments in that shelter are very important to the people who stay there, especially women with young children, says Pat Drake, senior vice president of agency advancement at VOA of Western New York. “Other shelters are available, but they provide more of an open or dorm-like setting.” In the Chenango Street shelter’s small, private apartments, families feel more at home and the trauma of homelessness is minimized for the children,
she says.

During the 25 years that VOA has run the family shelter, it has made some upgrades, but recently it grew clear that the building needed a major overhaul. Several grants, including a large one from the Home Depot Foundation, funded work on the roof, siding, back deck and stairs and much-needed renovations to four apartments.

But those funds did not cover two critical tasks, replacing dilapidated ceiling tiles and installing commercial-grade baseboard heaters, strong enough to survive the bumps and bruises that come with family life. In 2013, the Community Foundation provided $9,150 to add those finishing touches.

That grant ensured that VOA could use the whole building right away. It also removed the risk that some of the heating units might break down later, leaving staff scrambling to replace them, Drake says. “Having a warm, well-insulated, energy-efficient building, but not having heaters inside that worked well, would have been very detrimental.”

The family shelter always has a waiting list. Two days after it reopened, it was full. “The quicker we could complete the work, the quicker we could reopen, and that made a very big difference,” Drake says.

As VOA monitors energy usage in the shelter, it is finding that improvements such as new heaters and ceiling tiles are making a difference. “We are already paying less in utilities,” Drake says. “That means there will be more money to keep the building maintained and, if there’s any left beyond that, to offer more services to the families.”


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