Homeless champion won’t wait
By MELANIE PLENDA
Union Leader Correspondent
Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2009
KEENE –Don Primrose is opening a temporary cold-weather shelter for the homeless on Tuesday — whether the city approves or not.
The 50-year-old Sullivan man recently became an advocate for six men living in a shack behind a local shopping plaza when the city cited the men for building, health and fire code violations.
Primrose, a farmer and retired contractor, said he has rented space in a commercial building off Main Street to serve as a temporary shelter for the homeless.
The Hundred Nights Shelter will be open until March, from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. daily, he said. There will be 16 beds, mostly in one room, with some beds in two or three smaller rooms. There will be a toilet and sink, but no shower facilities or other amenities.
“It will just be a safe, warm place to sleep for the night,” Primrose said.
He said when he approached city officials with his plans yesterday morning, he was told he would have to go through the planning and zoning process. But, by the end of the day, he was told he may not have to go through those steps, depending on how the planning department interprets what he is doing.
“The need is now,” Primrose said. “I understand there may be penalties, there may be hard feelings or confusion on the part of the city, but I believe there is a need right now . . . we are going forward.”
Assistant City Manager Medard K. Kopczynski, head of code enforcement, did not return a call for comment.
Primrose is recruiting volunteers to staff the shelter in shifts from 5 to 9 p.m. and 9 p.m. to 8 a.m. He is also looking for cots and bunk beds.
He said the temporary shelter will not have the same rules as other area shelters, such as a curfew.
Primrose is fronting the $800 a month rent and electricity costs, but donations will be needed, he said. He’s spending the next few days making sure the space complies with building codes, he said.
Keene currently has three homeless shelters, run by Southwest Community Services. The emergency shelter Primrose is opening is not affiliated with the agency. No one was available from Southwest to comment on the emergency shelter.
Matt Primrose, Don Primrose’s son, is the homeless outreach coordinator for Monadnock Family Services and often places area homeless in shelters. MFS is not affiliated with Hundred Nights and Matt Primrose declined comment on the project.
But he said Keene’s shelters, along with shelters in outlying areas, are at capacity and are expected to stay that way through the winter. When there is space available out of town, Matt Primrose said, outreach workers have to find a way to get the person to the shelter, which could be as far away as Manchester or Concord. Many decline to go, since getting back to Keene where their lives and services are located is difficult. So some resort to living in their cars; a few may even camp in all-weather tents, he said. Both options are dangerous, Matt Primrose said.
Don Primrose refused to give the exact address of the shelter, but said as of Jan. 5, he will have a sign out in front of the building. He also said Hundred Nights will be listed among shelter options starting next week at the state homeless emergency hotline, 1-800-852-3388
[The comments to the original article printed in the Unionleader (see link above) are worth reading. Quite refreshing for the mind and heart if you have ever had the misfortune of reading the nasty, ignorant, mean-spirited comments to Eureka Times-Standard articles]
Comment from Don Primrose: A couple of issues I would like to clarify.
My involvement with the homeless situation in Keene started on December 03 of this year. Its been less than a month, and I am doing all I can to help. There has been no delay in my actions to force the City of Keene to move on any issue. Actually the City of Keene and the city’s Assistant City Manager Medard Kopczynski have been more than respectful of the situation and have made every effort to move the permitting of the Cold Weather Shelter in a timely manner. The pace of this project is very fast because of the vast increase in population of the homeless and displaced. The need for a safe warm place to sleep is right now. The initial plan for this shelter was less than two weeks ago.
Most shelters.. all the shelters in Keene have curfews because the residents in them are staying on average now close to six months and can come and go as they please during the day. A cold weather shelter is different since it has fixed hours of operations (7:00 PM – 7:00 AM) there are rules in place but a curfew is not one of them. If a homeless individual or a family came to the door at midnight would you leave them on the sidewalk?
The homeless population is a reflection of society as a whole, the good and the bad in all of us. I will not judge the homeless as I would not judge my neighbor. A month ago. . I would have told you this is the last thing I would ever be doing.
– Don Primrose, Sullivan, NH