Katie McQuaid’s Scene in Manchester: A touch of beauty can spark a renaissance

By KATIE McQUAID

There’s nothing like seeing a beautiful new building in an ugly part of town. It can create a ripple effect of revitalization, and I hope that is what is in store for the western end of Lake Avenue.

The Family Place Resource Center and Shelter at 177 Lake Avenue is the newest addition to Families in Transition’s growing list of properties around Manchester and southern New Hampshire.

The brightly-painted, two-story building sits next to Murphy’s Boxing Gym, the only other beacon of hope on a block that is also home to Mike’s Pub & Grub and a fair share of police activity.

“We’re really trying to be an oasis for families,” said Families in Transition Founder and President Maureen Beauregard. “This is where these people are from. This is their home.”

The Family Place Resource Center and Shelter will be a one-stop shop where homeless families can get their lives in order and on the road to self-sustainability. Removing barriers for services is Families in Transition’s specialty. That’s why they never offer a service that doesn’t include free transportation and childcare. For them, it makes sense to put the services in the neighborhood of the families they are serving, and they hope other like-missioned organizations will join them.

The public is invited to get a peek inside the new building at an open house on Tuesday, Dec. 22. It begins with a candlelight walk from The Radisson at 4 p.m., followed by a ceremony, ribbon cutting, and tours.

I left a personal tour of the building last week with one word emblazoned in my notes – “collaboration.”

On the first floor, visitors will find spaces reserved for Catholic Medical Center’s Mobile Community Health Team, Goodwill’s employment services, and a therapeutic preschool run by Southern New Hampshire Services’ Head Start program. There is also a kitchen and dining area for residents of the upstairs shelter, which will be managed by New Horizons for New Hampshire.

The second floor includes 11 rooms and two common living areas for families in need of temporary shelter. Safety was paramount when designing the building, and each door comes with key-code access, a safe for valuables and medications, and private bathrooms. Some rooms have connecting doors for larger families.

“We want to really counteract the effects of homelessness on kids,” Beauregard said, saying Families in Transition staff will work with the families to move them from the temporary shelter into one of their low-income housing units or another safe living arrangement.

Beauregard said the building was originally purchased with the intent to host a shelter, because they needed to find a new place for families living at Manchester Emergency Housing, which Families in Transition took over from the Manchester Welfare Department a couple of years ago. Beauregard said there are eight families crammed in space meant for only three, so it made sense to add a second floor onto the resource center and move the shelter there.

“We’re always maximizing our space,” Beauregard said. They have to. The need for temporary and permanent affordable housing continues to grow, and as many 500 people a day are living in one of Families’ in Transition’s units across Manchester, Concord and Dover.

Beauregard, who started Families in Transition for five homeless women and their children in 1991, is adamant that residents of all the organization’s properties pay 30% of their income in rent. If they don’t have income, they don’t pay, but the goal is to help get everyone a paycheck.

“We have to have expectations of people,” she said, saying that kids need to see their parents held accountable in order to break the cycle of poverty that keeps generations of families on welfare.

Families in Transition itself walks the walk, paying property taxes on buildings it owns, even though it is a non-profit. It doesn’t want to take the properties it purchases off the city’s tax rolls.

And Beauregard is always working to add more earned income into the organization’s $8 million budget, so they can rely less on government grants. They currently have two Family OutFITters Thrift Stores in Manchester and Concord and recently tried starting a cleaning company.

It’s a big operation to be sure, with way more moving parts than their 60 staff can take care of. Volunteers are vital to their existence.

“The success of FIT is allowing other to help,” Beauregard said.

Even more volunteers will be needed when the Family Place Resource Center and Shelter welcomes its first tenants in mid-January. They need people to staff the welcome desk, serve meals, and chaperone buses that bring people to and from the building.

They are also looking to the community to purchase bedding, kitchen and bathroom supplies, furniture, technology, first aid supplies, and more. There is a registry at www.myregistry.com/public/fitnh. Monetary donations can be made at https://getinvolved.fitnh.org/donate.

For more information on the Dec. 22 open house, which includes Families in Transition winter hats for the first 200 people at the candlelight walk, visit www.fitnh.org/familyplace.

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