By Doug Ireland
---- — SALEM — The Planning Board will consider plans Tuesday for the Hope Center, a facility at Pleasant Street United Methodist Church that would serve homeless families.
If approved, the 4,560-square-foot center would accommodate up to five homeless families — or 14 people — at once as part of the Interfaith Hospitality Network established by Family Promise of Greater Rockingham County, according to George Fredette of SFC Engineering Partnership.
Fredette, project representative for Pleasant Street United Methodist, has requested a conditional use permit from the town to build the center adjacent to the church at 8 Pleasant St.
The facility would also provide the church with meeting space and serve as an area cooling center on extremely hot days, according to Fredette.
The church hosts a food pantry and many community groups, including Scouts and a day-care center, he said in his proposal to the town.
The Planning Board will conduct a public hearing on the proposal at its meeting Tuesday, which begins at 7 p.m. at Town Hall, according to planning director Ross Moldoff.
Pleasant Street United Methodist will be the fifth Salem congregation to join the network of homeless shelters, said Melanie Nesheim, board president for Family Promise of Greater Rockingham County. The church announced on its website that it’s trying to raise $400,000 for the project.
Nesheim said Family Promise had previously asked the church to join the network, but was told it was not ready to participate until its proposed expansion was complete.
The network is made up of approximately 20 congregations that provide food and shelter at 10 sites throughout the community, Nesheim said. It also helps the families find permanent housing.
“We would love to have them as our 11th host church,” she said. “We want to reach our goal to have 13 host churches.”
The network had been in an organizational phase for several years until it started to host families in late February, serving a half dozen since then, Nesheim said.
Fredette told the town that Pleasant Street United Methodist would serve homeless families four times a year through the help of approximately 50 volunteers.
Host congregations take turns providing food and shelter on a weekly basis. The network also operates a day center for the families at Calvary Bible Church in Derry.
Nesheim has said a survey of area school districts revealed there are more than 150 homeless families in Southern New Hampshire. She said the network relies on donations and fund-raisers to pay operating costs. A major fundraiser, “An Evening of Thanks & Giving,” is planned for Nov. 9 at the Atkinson Country Club, she said.
The new center would not have a large impact on traffic or safety, Fredette said. The church was built in the 1860s, he said.
More information on the project is available at hopecenter-psumc.org.