Category Archives: Uncategorized

Demers Interview: Vermont is Home to Plenty Barely Scraping By

In Vermont the population is about 626,000. One in every ten Vermonters, or 70,000, are classified by the U.S. Census Bureau as living in poverty.

The Burlington Free Press recently interviewed Jan Demers, the executive director of Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity (CVOEO), on poverty in the state. Read the full interview here:

BFP: Could you identify some of the causes of poverty?
Jan Demers: Unemployment, underemployment, lack of education or skill, disability, sudden or chronic health or mental health issues affecting self or family, high medical bills, loss of transportation, loss of federal dollars which undergird section 8 vouchers and stabilized housing.
BFP: What populations are chiefly affected?
JD: That is an interesting question. We, as a society, don’t talk about poverty in a personal sense. Mark Rank, a professor of social welfare at Washington University, says that his research shows that nearly 40 percent of Americans between the ages of 25 and 60 will experience at least one year below the federal poverty level in their lives and 54 percent will spend a year in poverty or near poverty.  If you add in welfare use and unemployment, four out of five Americans will experience poverty in their lives. That seems like an absurd figure, but then, think about your own life and the lives of those you know.

I can relate to having spent more than a year and a half below the federal poverty level. I would say taking that into consideration that the vast majority of households and individuals in our communities know what it feels like to live in poverty. All of our populations are affected.

Some statistics for those people we serve:

• The largest group we serve are employed, but under employed.
• Most of the people are single but the next largest group are female single parents with one child.
• They rent, own their home or are homeless.
• The largest group is at 50 percent of the federal poverty level and has a high school degree. Eleven
percent of those we serve have had some post secondary education.
• The largest group we serve has Medicaid for health insurance but 17 percent have no insurance at all.  That will change with VT Health Connect.
•Half of the households we serve have a car and most of the people we serve are white. We also serve New Americans, refugees and immigrants, veterans and those who have disabilities.

BFP: How does poverty take root?
JD: Poverty can happen in an instant with the loss of a job, or loss of health insurance, the onset of a chronic disease or the death of a family member.  For someone whose life hovers on the edge of poverty, a major car repair can tip the balance causing potential job loss and housing instability. Poverty is a definite and delicate domino process. It takes an inordinate amount of effort and resources to re-establish stability.

There is an interesting new book out entitled “Scarcity” by Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir. Their premise is based on scarcity, which can be related to several life experiences: lack of time, lack of health, lack of resources just to name a few.  One of the symptoms of scarcity is the person’s view is limited and focused on the area of pain. When someone is hungry in Vermont they will be successful finding food but it may take an entire day focused on the scarcity and not on the change needed to prevent another day of hunger.  We know that because of the state’s policy of addressing homelessness in Vermont. In the winter families may find a roof over their heads at night. However, it generally takes all day to get that bed, and there is very little time left to address the larger problem. Breaking the downward trajectory takes intervention.

Read the full interview online here or in PDF format.

Monthly Meeting is Tomorrow – Tuesday, April 15

Tomorrow, Tuesday, April 15, the Vermont Coalition to End Homelessness will be having our monthly meeting. This month’s meeting will take place at 10am at a new location in Randolph:

Our Lady of the Angels Catholic Church
43 Hebard Hill Road
Randolph, VT

The Church is located on the on the corner of Hebard Hill Road and Route 66.  Here is the agenda and the materials to be discussed at the meeting tomorrow:

April Meeting Agenda
Draft March Meeting Minutes
211 March After Hours Report
HUD Consolidated Plan
Updated FY 15 Budget Recommendations

We hope you can attend the meeting in person, but if you are unable to, please dial-in at 1-866-244-8528 and use the participant access code 324359. Please note if you are calling in it may be difficult to hear.

After the regular coalition meeting, there will be the Access to Housing – Supportive Services and Housing Providers Round Table, hosted by the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board. Space and funds are limited, so note that only those individuals who have received notification that they are on the attendance list for this event will be admitted to lunch and to the event.

Hope to see you all tomorrow!

Brattleboro Winter Shelter Opens Early Due To High Demand

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.”

Listen to the full report here.