Times Argus: Welch to seek more money for homeless

BARRE — Government funding ultimately saves money and improves personal outcomes for homeless people helped by federal, state and local programs, local housing officials said Monday.

Vermont Congressional Rep. Pater Welch said he would reintroduce legislation to increase funding that would help small states like Vermont combat homelessness.

Speaking at the Good Samaritan Haven homeless shelter in Barre, Welch said he was working to increase the small-state minimum funding from $ 300,000 to $750,000. The funding amount hasn’t changed since the Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness (PATH) program was created in 1990.

Welch and advocates for the homeless population noted that the funding is essential to helping people who have mental illness and substance abuse issues find temporary shelter and access to community services. Those services can include counseling and assistance finding employment, which in turn helps clients find permanent and affordable housing.

Welch said he was surprised to learn that the Good Samaritan Haven shelter feeds 45 people a day and houses 30.

“It’s pretty astonishing and humbling,” Welch said of the work the shelter does to care for the homeless.

He expressed concern that Republicans in Congress were willing to approve billions in spending for defense and tax cuts for the wealthy while cutting social programs.

“Homelessness is a real challenge in our state and in our country. I’m so humbled to be in this small building in Barre that is providing services to people that have nowhere to go,” Welch said. “They’re not only helping to provide a roof over their heads and a meal, but help along the way to get their own apartment and become independent and move on in their lives.

“Homelessness is a real challenge in our state and in our country. I’m so humbled to be in this small building in Barre that is providing services to people that have nowhere to go. They’re not only helping to provide a roof over their heads and a meal, but help along the way to get their own apartment and become independent and move on in their lives.” - Rep. Peter Welch

Welch said the give homeless shelters in the state share the $300,000 that comes from the federal government.

“We need more,” he said.

Welch was joined at the event by Brian Smith of the Vermont Department of Mental Health, which administers money that supports homeless shelter programs. Smith, who has administered the homeless shelter program for the past 24 years, said many homeless people would benefit from an increase in funding to provide support services. “Folks who stay out actually tend to cost more than if they were in and housed, whether they go to emergency care or go to corrections or other high-cost care,” Smith said.

Brooke Jenkins, executive director of Good Samaritan Haven, said her shelter operates a second overflow shelter service in the basement at the Hedding United Methodist Church in Barre during the winter months.

“ Approximately half of the guests that come though this shelter qualify for our PATH program, which means they have a serious mental illness or a co-occurring substance abuse disorder” Jenkins said. “I can tell you that there’s great need for these services in the community.”

“This is a very significant group of people with very significant needs,” said Jeanne Montross, executive director of the HOPE homeless shelter in Middlebury. “Because of their illness, they are often out on the street without a place to stay. We really need to increase the minimum of money available for these people. We provide street outreach, folks need services and housing as well as the services it takes to keep people housed, so I’m very grateful that this may be moving forward.”

Former Good Samaritan Haven resident Lawrence Seiler thanked shelter staff for helping himself and his wife, Arline, find affordable housing after a three-month stay at a shelter.

“ Sometimes, despite our challenges, we need a little push,” Seiler said. “We need more housing and more places like this.”

stephen.mills @timesargus.com