Rota Knott, incoming executive director of Tedford Housing.

BRUNSWICK — Rota Knott, a Maryland native with experience in building a homeless shelter in her community and developing a homeless resource center, will step in as the new director of Tedford Housing next month, the organization announced Thursday.

Current Tedford director Craig Phillips announced his retirement in May. He has lead the organization, which provides shelter and services to homeless individuals in the Midcoast, since 2011.

Knott is currently the director of the Community Foundation of Harford County, which builds and manages permanent endowments and donations to “meet the present and emerging needs” of the local Maryland community, according to the nonprofit’s website. 

She also served on the board of directors for the Lower Shore Shelter, a 24-bed shelter which she helped start after she and others realized theirs was the only county in Maryland without a homeless shelter. She also helped create a recovery and re-entry center.

“Across the board, a lot of the causes of homelessness are pretty universal, but are not always what you expect,” she said, adding that while substance misuse disorders and mental health conditions certainly play a large role, there are also many who become homeless after a job loss or an unexpected illness. 

“A lot of folks are just one missed paycheck away from losing their home,” she said. “That might be all it takes.” 

Knott said she looks forward to diving into local data to find trends to develop a needs assessment and work from there to build strategic plans for the future. 

“We want to build sustainability for our programs, but also for the people who participate in our programs,” she said.

The face of homelessness in the community is ever-changing, Phillips said, adding that Knott is the right person to “bring Tedford into the next chapter.”

“She’s very secure in who she is and what she wants to accomplish,” he said, calling her a “great addition to Tedford and an asset for the community.” 

Knott was selected after an “extensive” search process that involved 11 initial interview candidates.

Craig Phillips has been the executive director of Tedford Housing since 2011. He will retire at the beginning of January. Hannah LaClaire/The Times Record

Knott’s experience managing and overseeing a homeless shelter of a similar size and with similar needs as Tedford makes her an “ideal leader to implement Tedford Housing’s plans for the next decade,” according to Roger Brodeur, president of Tedford’s board of directors. 

She is committed to “furthering Tedford Housing’s mission by enhancing our ability to serve members of our community who are experiencing or are in danger of homelessness,” she said in a statement. “Tedford Housing has a long history of creating pathways from homelessness to home for residents of the Midcoast, and I am committed to working with the board of directors and staff to create a significant and lasting impact for those in need of safe, stable shelter.”

In fiscal year 2019, Tedford Housing served 86 individuals and 23 families in the adult and family shelters, but had to turn away 251 individuals and 205 families due to lack of space. Of those served, 39% of individuals and 88% of families exited to permanent housing.

Now that a contentious year-long zoning process for homeless shelters has wrapped up, Phillips said he and the board would resume its search for a space for a new homeless shelter and resource center, but that it is time for a new leader with “new perspective, new ideas and new energy.”

Tedford approached the city in early 2018 with plans to build a 70-bed shelter and resource center in town, but the council stalled the talks after it realized Brunswick didn’t have ordinances regulating homeless shelters, despite the fact that Tedford had been operating in town for decades. This move sparked a year’s worth of meetings and hearings that ended in April when the council approved a new zoning ordinance, allowing Tedford to move forward with its plans.

Under the new rules, Tedford officials have said they aren’t sure where the new shelter could be located. The new zoning rules prohibited new shelters from all of Brunswick’s residential areas and added a requirement for a 1,000-foot buffer between any two shelters not on the same parcel of land. Potential sites that might meet that new criteria are “few and far between” in Brunswick, Phillips has said.

One of Knott’s upcoming goals is to bring the resource center to fruition. 

It is important to have a place to support people and she will work to find the right place for that to happen and expand Tedford’s reach in the community, she said, since homelessness “has an impact on all of us who live there.” 

She is excited to work with local agencies and find partners “we don’t typically think about who may want to participate” in Tedford’s mission. 

While “we didn’t end homelessness in eight years,” Phillips said earlier, he is proud of what the organization has accomplished in his time as director, especially the expansion of case management and reach. Tedford is in a healthy position and is on stable grounds with good staff, he said.

“The needs that our guests are presenting are becoming more complex,” and will require a “coordinated effort from the community,” he said. 

The community and Tedford will need to have more conversations about the need for affordable housing, he said, and “as the story of Russell (Williams) demonstrates, people in this community  are homeless and are facing some pretty difficult circumstances.” 

Russell Williams was a homeless man who was found dead in his sleeping bag by the train tracks in November. His death has prompted a sense of urgency within the community surrounding the need for more affordable housing. Williams had recently received a voucher, but died before he could find an apartment.

For Phillips, he is “excited as well as nervous,” to enter the next phase of his life. 

“It’s exciting for me to take a clean slate and start filling it in,” he said Thursday, and is looking forward to “relaxing and slowing things down a little.” 

“I have thoroughly enjoyed and have been honored to hold this position, working with the entire community to advance the mission of Tedford Housing,” he said in his retirement announcement.

His last day is Jan. 4 and Knott will begin Jan. 6. 

“I’m really excited… to become a part of the community and become a part of the Tedford Housing family and make an impact in what will be my new home,” she said. 

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