Two birds with one stone: project ties homelessness, conservation together

Sep 13, 2016

A project spearheaded by three nonprofits could get a group of Wareham’s homeless off the streets while preserving land along the Weweantic River.

The Wareham Land Trust and Father Bill’s & MainSpring are teaming up to purchase 950 Main St. in West Wareham, which includes eight acres of land along the Weweantic River and a four-unit apartment building on the remaining two acres.

The plan satisfies aspects of all three of the organizations’ missions. The project first began in 2012 when the Wareham Land Trust began looking into the property for conservation reasons.

According to Pastor David Shaw of the Emmanuel Church of the Nazarene, who serves as Turning Point’s chairman of the board, the apartment building will house six people among the two, two-bedroom units and two, one-bedroom units.

Turning Point, which is a program operated by the Wareham Area Committee for the Homeless that provides services to the homeless and near-homeless, would place individuals in the apartments.

Father Bill’s & MainSpring and Wareham Land Trust are requesting $635,000 in Community Preservation funds for the project. Community Preservation funding is generated by a 3 percent surcharge on property taxes. The Community Preservation Committee gave the project its blessing by way of a majority vote in July. The Board of Selectmen voted to add the proposal to October’s Town Meeting agenda. Town Meeting voters will have the final say on whether the project receives funding.

The total cost of the project is nearly $700,000, half of which would go toward the purchase of the land and the other half to purchase the house.

“To buy the house is $350,000 plus a little renovation cost,” said Tom Fitzpatrick, vice chairman of Turning Point’s board of directors.

But Fitzpatrick and Shaw are convinced all of the Community Preservation money won’t be needed because of additional funding from other sources.

In the last couple of years, grants totaling $32,500 were awarded to the cause from Eastern Bank, the Community Economic Development Authority and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The Wareham Housing Trust awarded $100,000, and the Buzzards Bay Watershed Municipal Minigrant Program awarded $35,000. All of these grants will be subtracted from the amount requested from Community Preservation Committee funds.

Community Preservation Act grant money can only be used to preserve open space, for historic preservation, for recreation, or affordable housing. Organizers say this project fits in three of those categories: recreation, affordable housing and open space preservation.

“It's very valuable open space,” said Kevin Bartsch, president of the Land Trust. “It's a riparian area of 1,300 feet of river frontage next to the Weweantic River. The property includes a trail system, which will connect to the [existing] Westgate Conservation Area.” The Westgate Conservation Area is located off of Papermill Road.

According to Bartsch, the owner of the property wasn't interested in breaking the property up, so the Land Trust went looking for a partner in the project. That's when Father Bill’s stepped in.

“Open space would be owned by the town. The Wareham Land Trust will hold a conservation restriction on it, and the building would be owned by Father Bill’s and MainSpring and designated as permanent affordable housing,” said Bartsch.

Though the apartment will only hold six people, Shaw noted it part of his group’s continuing effort to help get people of the street. In fact, Turning Point and Father Bill’s have found housing for approximately 20 people last year.

“We just want to support the mission to offer housing to the homeless,” said Shaw.