Homelessness Vigil Helps Bring Awareness to the Need for Housing as Temperatures Drop

The article below from Jessie Forand of the Burlington Free Press contains some coverage of Homelessness Vigil that took place on January 8th at the Statehouse in Montpelier. Thanks to everyone who came out to help bring awareness to those Vermonters who are still in need of housing. Also discussed are many of the issues that the homeless and homelessness providers in Vermont face during the winter months:

The area’s homeless population has faced dangerous cold amidst this week’s dropping temperatures.

While advocates held a homelessness vigil Thursday on the Statehouse steps in Montpelier, area shelters were seeing a influx of people seeking warmth.

Linda Ryan, executive director of the Samaritan House in St. Albans, said after the vigil that her shelter is currently in overflow status. While the building normally has a capacity for 10, it was lodging about 15 people.

The full-service shelter has cots, a donation from the American Red Cross, to help make sure everyone who needs a bed gets one, Ryan said. One person couldn’t be accommodated but was given a ride to a hotel for the night.

“I just can’t imagine,” Ryan said about being out on such frigid nights. She noted that her car barely started as she left the shelter Wednesday night.

Of those who eschew shelter stays, Ryan said she does not know how they survive.

The COTS Waystation in Burlington had two people they could not accommodate with beds, according to Becky Holt, the organization’s director of development and communications. She said those individuals were sleeping inside but had to do so on couches or recliners.

The Daystation, a daytime drop-in facility, hasn’t had a significant increase but guests have tended to stick around longer because of the cold, Holt said. When temperatures drop below freezing, doors an hour earlier to ensure there is no gap between the day- and nighttime shelter, she added.

A deliberative session of the Burlington Development Review Board scheduled for Thursday night was expected to examine the possibility of seasonal use of 298 College St., the former Ethan Allen Club, for a community house and overnight shelter.

The building, as reported by the Burlington Free Press in December, would serve as an overflow shelter, offering nighttime accommodations to about 35 men and women.

A public hearing on the shelter was held Tuesday at Burlington City Hall. Some people expressed concern about the idea, according to Jan Demers, executive director with the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity.

Anew Place, formerly the Burlington Emergency Shelter, has been full for months, according to Executive Director Valerie Brosseau. The shelter is unique in that it serves a longer-term population, accommodating 28 people.

Of being out in the cold, Brosseau said, “It’s not easy at all.” The act of being homeless is for many already degrading, challenging and makes them feel alone. The cold only heightens that sense of alienation, she said.

Anew Place is working to help people break out of the cycle of homelessness, working with them long after the immediate need presents itself.


Homeless advocates joined by House Speaker Shap Smith, D-Morristown, on the Statehouse steps.
Photo Credit: April Burbank/Burlington Free Press

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