VT Winter Shelters Expect More Homeless

As winter shelters begin to open across the state of Vermont, those who organize these temporary facilities are preparing to see a rise in demand for services this year. Below is an excerpt from an article in the Rutland Herald discussing this issue. While the article focuses on services in Brattleboro, it also explains that this is expected to be a statewide concern:

The temperature may be dropping, but this town’s winter homeless shelter — the first to open in the state this season — is just one of several ready for demand to rise.

“You hear people say we have plenty of affordable housing, but we don’t have enough good-paying jobs,” says Lucie Fortier, director of the Brattleboro Area Drop In Center. “That’s why we’re anticipating our numbers, especially for women and families, will go up.”

The shelter — which made national news when hosts at the local First Baptist Church sold a Tiffany stained-glass window in 2010 to avoid closure — used to open around Thanksgiving to grant the homeless a temporary reprieve from sleeping in the woods, under bridges or along the banks of the nearby Connecticut River.

But the combination of a chillier environment and economy has prompted organizers to now open at the start of November and delay closure until as late as the end of April.

“Even though it’s the first of the month and people will get SSI (supplemental security income) checks, our numbers will be high,” Fortier says. “We are hearing about more families with children out there. It’s a major problem, and we are not going in the right direction.”

What the state calls “seasonal warming shelters” in church and community buildings are different from homeless organizations that operate year-round but can only house a small number of full-time residents. (Brattleboro’s 29-bed Morningside Shelter — the sole such permanent facility in southeastern Vermont — usually has a waiting list that equals its number of clients.)

The state doesn’t have an accurate count of winter facilities, as many open or close depending on the annual ability to find sponsors and space. But officials — reporting 1,556 homeless Vermonters in a 2014 survey, up 9.27 percent from last year — say the need for such support continues.

“If you have money in the stock market, the recovery has been pretty tangible, but if you are at a minimum-wage job or on a fixed benefit, it’s hard to see that,” says Angus Chaney, director of housing for the state Agency of Human Services and chairman of the Vermont Council on Homelessness. “The low incomes of many aren’t keeping pace with the cost of housing. When you add that with the loss of federal assistance, the combination is very bad for people on the edge.”

To read the complete article click here.