Category Archives: Awareness

Save the Date: January 7th – Homelessness Awareness Day and Memorial Vigil at the State House

Every year in January concerned citizens and homeless service providers from across Vermont gather at the State House in Montpelier for a day to engage their representatives and to renew their commitment to end homelessness in our state. Please join us on Thursday, January 7th for the Annual Homelessness Memorial Vigil and Awareness Day.

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The day will kick off early at 8:00am in the Card Room. People will be present there all day from 8 – 3:30pm to share information, connect with their representatives, see the work being done around the state, and to be a part of the conversation on which strategies are working in reducing homelessness and which ones still need work.

At Noon community members, elected officials, and advocates will take to the State House steps for a Vigil to remember our friends and neighbors who have died without homes, and to bring awareness of the struggles of those still searching for safe and secure housing.

At 3:30pm be in the House Gallery to hear the House read a Resolution and recognize those experiencing homelessness and the work being done by homeless service providers and advocates.

Please click here for a downloadable flyer to print and distribute. Thank you all for your continued commitment to helping to end homelessness in Vermont and we look forward to seeing many of you on January 7th!

Spring Creates New Challenges For Vermont’s Homeless

While there is much talk about the challenges that winter creates for Vermont’s homeless, with spring comes a new set of challenges. In this VPR report Elizabeth Ready, director of the John Graham Shelter in Vergennes, discusses some of the challenges homeless providers face once the seasons change and winter emergency shelter programs end:

Although nights may not be as bitter cold, new challenges face Vermont’s homeless population now that spring has sprung.

Elizabeth Ready, director of the John Graham Shelter in Vergennes, sees those challenges every day and is working to help find a safe, permanent home for Vermont’s homeless population.

Warmer nights mean an end to warming shelters throughout the state. “That means that some people are immediately looking to get into permanent shelter,” says Ready. “So we do see a little bit of an increase at this time as people that were formerly spending the night in the warming shelters are looking for a place to go.”

Ready says that there are people who camp once it warms up, but that many don’t think camping is the best idea for homeless families and youth. “Another thing is that many of the people in the warming shelters have illnesses that really should preclude them from being outside,” says Ready. She explains that at the shelter right now, there are people with emphysema, MS and cancer. “Our youngest person is a newborn and our oldest is 74. You see people with mental illness, people that need medication management, so more and more people that are seeking shelter are not necessarily healthy people who can just go out and thrive outside. So I think that the end goal always has to be permanent, safe, stable housing,” says the shelter director.

Ready says that Vermont has seen a recent increase in homeless families. “It’s a pretty simple formula: The cost of housing exceeds people’s ability to pay, even when people are working. A lot of people are working now at the shelter, mostly everybody, but they may be working at a fast food place, supermarket, on the farm, in the nursing home … and they’re just not making enough to pay the rent.”

Rent is expensive, says Ready, especially in Chittenden and Addison County, and it’s hard for people to compete with students and young professionals in the housing market. “What we try to do is work with people to bridge the gap, whether it means employment, or getting a housing choice voucher or Vermont rental subsidies, whatever it’s going to take.”

Ready says the young homeless population, especially in the LGBT community, is especially vulnerable. “They may be healthy and young, but people are very vulnerable … to abuse, they are vulnerable to being taken advantage of, so we really don’t like to see youth camping, especially in the LGBT population, because we just don’t want to see any harm come to them,” says Ready. “The thing is to create really safe spaces where people feel supported, people feel that they have a sense of community, a sense of belonging. So, it’s really more than just a room or just a shelter, it’s a sense that they belong somewhere.”

And that’s exactly what Ready tries to do at the John Graham Shelter in Vergennes – create a safe space. She says her excellent staff, all thoroughly screened before being hired, are at the shelter 24 hours per day, seven days a week, and that they have counselors with substance abuse backgrounds available to talk at all hours of the day. “We also just have a really safe environment at night. There are deadlines that people have to be in and there is staff there all around the clock and there are always people there who can sit down and help you try to problem solve, whether it’s a housing issue or trying to get a ride to work, just try to work things out,” she says.

One thing that Ready says keeps her hopeful and has been a “tremendous help” to the shelter is Vermont’s rental subsidy program. “It has been a lifesaver for a lot of people. What happens is if we get a shelter full of people and we can’t move them, especially in the winter, it becomes a destitute situation. People don’t have much hope, they don’t know how they’ll get out … So we what we do is work with this rental subsidy,” Says Ready. She explains that although anyone can apply, it is scored, so those who are working with children often get the highest scores. “We’ve been able to really help people get into units of their own and then we follow them with case management resources, make sure they are paying the rent, helping them to be good tenants, and then at the end of the year they are hopefully going to move on and be independent,” she says.

Ready says that in Vermont, people understand that everyone needs a warm, safe space indoors. “More and more people are getting the idea that this is the kind of suffering we don’t want our neighbors to go through,” she says.

To view the full article, including audio, click here.

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.