After a bumpy start, Bethel Winter House has opened its doors once again, with new rules. The all-volunteer shelter’s board, organized under a Lion’s Club, met Thursday to sort out problems that closed it last week.
Organizers said clients were breaking rules and sneaking in alcohol. One volunteer claimed police did not show up or showed up too late when called.
Bethel’s Police Chief, Andre Achee attended the meeting and said his department was short staffed but did respond to all calls for service. A handful of shelter guests also attended the meeting. They said there were indeed problems with people sneaking in alcohol and also with guests mixing hand sanitizer and other products containing alcohol into water bottles.
The shelter reopened Friday with the new procedure of checking guests’ backpacks and coats at the front door for alcohol and other prohibited intoxicants . Eva Malvich is the Bethel Winter House Lion’s Club President.
“We monitor who we take in and if the people who come in don’t want to comply with the rules then we’ll ask them to leave,” said Malvich.
One woman left the shelter rather than go through the new check-in procedure Friday night. Another shelter guest said he was grateful for the new rules. He added that he spent the nights the shelter was closed roaming the streets seeking warmth at the hospital emergency room when he got too cold. Temperatures dipped into the single digits last week and snow fell overnight Friday.
Volunteers formed Bethel’s only homeless shelter after six deaths by exposure in 2012. In 2013 they provided a safe place for more than 80 regular guests to be out of the elements and there was only one death that year. The winter shelter opened December 1st and has been serving 15 to 20 guests nightly. Organizers say they hope the new rules curb the problems and that safety is their top priority.