Last week Brattleboro’s winter shelter opened early due to increased demand. VPR has the details:
Officials say the demand for overnight shelter has increased because of federal budget cuts that disproportionately affect the poor.
When the Brattleboro Area Drop In center opens at eight each morning Lucie Fortier often finds a crowd of people lined up outside.
“We probably have ten people out there, waiting to come in and get warmed up and have coffee,” she says.
Fortier, who directs the daytime shelter, says it’s been that way all fall.
“A lot of them are sleeping along the river bank, some are camping under the bridges, she says. “Our people need to have a safe place to sleep”
The Drop In Center also sponsors the overnight winter shelter in the Baptist Church on Main Street. The service is funded by donations and a state grant. It’s run by volunteers, social service agencies and the local interfaith clergy group.
This year everyone agreed that the service was needed before the scheduled opening on the Sunday after Thanksgiving.
“The demand is just there,” Fortier explains. “People were calling, wanting to know when is the shelter going to open, is there any place else we can stay until the shelter was open.”
But Fortier says there aren’t many options. Programs have been squeezed by federal budget cuts. Section-8 housing subsidies are frozen. In Brattleboro an anti-camping ordinance and a crackdown on railroad property has even made it harder to live outside.
Angus Chaney chairs the Vermont Council on Homelessness. He says the effects of federal sequestration are being felt statewide. He says the cuts are negatively impacting state programs that had been working.
“I think sequestration was designed to be painful by people in Washington who were trying to force agreement on something,” Chaney says. “The concern that we’re seeing in the housing community is that it’s disproportionately painful on people who are homeless or have unstable housing.”