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New Diocese of Norwich program to repurpose buildings for homeless

By Claire Bessette

Publication: theday.com

Published January 31. 2013 4:00PM   Updated January 31. 2013 9:37PM

Norwich — The Diocese of Norwich announced Thursday it will start to identify and repurpose vacant or underused diocesan buildings to help the homeless.

“Our Diocese has many underutilized buildings," the Most Rev. Michael Cote, bishop of Norwich, said in a press release Thursday. “In these recessionary times, we need to be thinking of ways to create housing to help those who have no place to live. We must find ways to put these assets to good use for those most in need.”

Diocese spokesman Michael Strammiello said St. Mary’s School in New London, which closed in June, and the former St. Mary’s School in Jewett City, will be considered in the new homeless housing study.

Although the former St. Joseph School in Norwich also is an “underutilized building,” Strammiello said the current controversial plan to relocate the St. Vincent de Paul Place soup kitchen to the school is a separate effort.

“The soup kitchen falls into an exceptional category, i.e. outside the housing initiative,” Strammiello said. “Very vital and important ministry, just outside the mission of this new housing focus.”

The city denied a special permit for the soup kitchen relocation, and the diocese has filed an appeal in federal court, along with an administrative appeal to the Norwich Zoning Board of Appeals.

Cote announced Thursday that Peter Harding, former executive director of St. Vincent de Paul in Middletown, will direct the new homeless initiative. He said Harding has been working for the past 15 months evaluating buildings in many towns and parishes for different types of affordable housing.

Much of the work done so far has been with vacant school buildings, and substantial progress has already been made on two or three buildings, the release states.

Cote serves on the Leadership Council for the Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness in Middlesex County.

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