The Unique Challenges Facing Vermont’s Homeless Population

Yesterday VPR spoke with Paul Dragon, director of the Vermont Office of Economic Opportunity, to discuss some of the challenges that arise for those who face homelessness in a rural state like Vermont. Barriers such as limited transportation options, low housing availability, and extremely cold winters add extra challenges for the homeless and those who are working to help them. Read some of the information he provided below and for the full report, including audio, click here:

On the numbers

“There were 1,556 people in Vermont who were unsheltered, in emergency shelter or in transitional housing on the night of Jan. 28, 2014 … We know that about 24 percent, or 371 were children, and we also know that many of them have disabilities and many are victims of domestic violence as well.”

On uniquely rural challenges

“Transportation, access to good, quality, affordable child care, access to employment and then of course housing that is suitable to people, and housing that is available and affordable as well — all those things are magnified when you have people living in rural areas, and you don’t have that kind of transportation hub, and you don’t have the employment opportunities.”

On what’s being done

“We’ve got an incredible network of services working to put people into permanent housing, transitional housing and, of course, our emergency shelter system. And we’ve got service providers who are doing a range of work from service coordination and case management to mental health counseling and substance abuse work. We have a great program called Family Supportive Housing where we take families who are experiencing homelessness, put them in permanent housing and then provide really intensive support services, and that includes some financial empowerment services. We’re actually helping people create savings accounts and teaching them how to manage their money.”

On the Housing First approach

“It’s hard to work on many of the other issues, particularly finding employment or getting someone’s diabetes or hypertension under check, or getting them to counseling for substance or mental health, if they don’t have a home … So that is a big component of Housing First. Let’s get people stabilized, get them in a home, and then we can work on these other issues.”

On stigma versus systemic problems

“I don’t necessarily want to suggest that people who are experiencing homelessness have all these mental health, substance abuse and domestic violence issues, although those things are there. But again, it’s a function of the economy. There are low wages, people are living in poverty, housing is extremely expensive and the cost of living is extremely expensive. So those are the systemic issues that we have to go after as well, not just thinking in terms of the systems.”

On the effort to move people out of “homeless hotels”

“You know as I, we’re working hard and trying to get people out of the hotels for a couple of different reasons. Hotels are a more expensive option, and we also don’t think they’re the best service option either. You know, it’s beyond just keeping [people] warm. It’s also trying to get them into permanent housing, get them stable so we can really work on the other issues that keep them from being housed in the first place.”

Along with this story, VPR also profiled the John Graham Shelter in Vergennes and the efforts they are making to help end homelessness in their community. To read more about them and the work they are doing click here.