BY PAUL LEIGHTON, STAFF WRITER
The Salem News
” Legislators have included $200,000 for River House in the state budget, a move that organizers hope will ensure the long-term future of the financially strapped homeless shelter.
The House and Senate approved the budget on Thursday. It must still be signed by Gov. Deval Patrick.
The $200,000 is the most River House has ever received from the state since it opened in 2005, said Linda Anderson-Mercier, the shelter’s board president. The shelter has been running on a $250,000 annual budget funded mostly by private donations.
It’s tremendous, she said. It’s going to jump-start our fundraising activities and allow us to get the shelter upgraded.
River House closed temporarily on April 30 amid mounting financial pressures and plans to reopen in October.
State funding has been limited to $25,000 in past years, and the shelter received no state funding for the last two years, Anderson-Mercier said.
She credited a change in shelter management with helping secure the $200,000 state appropriation this year. Harborlight Community Partners, a Beverly-based affordable-housing agency, took over management of River House in May from North Shore Community Action Programs.
Anderson-Mercier said Harborlight Executive Director Andrew DeFranza really led the charge on securing more state funding. She also credited Sen. Fred Berry, the Senate majority leader from Peabody, and Beverly state Rep. Jerry Parisella.
If we hadn’t gotten the money, we would’ve been back to square one, she said.
River House is a men-only emergency shelter in a renovated, 19th-century firehouse on River Street near the train depot. It has 36 beds on the first floor and five single-room apartments on the second floor.
Last year, the board of directors voted to close at night due to lack of money, then changed its mind two months later after private donors and city and state officials came up with $72,000 to close a budget shortfall.
DeFranza said the $200,000 in state aid is included in a line item that funds many other homeless shelters across the state and is more likely to be a continuing source of funding.
They were never going to be able to survive well if they were not on equal footing with how other shelters are sourced, DeFranza said. It’s the best of all possible scenarios. Sen. Berry deserves a lot of credit. It would have never happened without him.
The city has also increased its contribution to River House, from $8,000 to $20,000, a commitment that DeFranza said helped to secure the state funding.
River House has also applied for a $102,000 state grant under the Emergency Solutions Grants Program, DeFranza said.
Private fundraising will continue to be a big part of River House’s operation, Anderson-Mercier said. It is holding a Rock Away for River House event on Aug. 4 as part of Beverly Homecoming. It also benefits from the annual Polar Plunge.
Since it closed in April, the shelter has been upgraded with new floors and appliances. The exterior of the building will be painted and new fencing will be installed so that it looks much nicer for the neighborhood, DeFranza said.
Provided everything gets signed, we will be very optimistic that it will open in the fall, he said.
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or firstname.lastname@example.org.