Times Argus: Shelter seeks lasting results for homeless

Central Vermont’s only emergency housing shelter has seen some changes recently, improving its mission to provide much more than just a bed and a meal in the evenings. The 30-bed Good Samaritan Haven in Barre serves Lamoille, Orange and Washington counties and operates an additional 14-bed overflow shelter at the Hedding United Methodist Church in the winter.

“Essentially it used to be just a shelter; a bed to sleep in and a warm meal and that’s that,” said Executive Director Brooke Jenkins. “Those are the most basic needs. They save people’s lives and are critically important, but people need more than that. There have been some new changes in the organization to really try to acknowledge that and figure out the best way to support people and, ultimately, to reduce homelessness.”

The PATH program (Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness), established in 1990, and the SOAR initiative (Supplemental Social Security/Disability Income Outreach, Access and Recovery), rolled out nationwide in 2006, are not new. But the way Good Samaritan Haven guests begin participation in those programs is.

“Pretty much everyone who comes here is in a crisis,” said Jenkins.

The new focus on stabilizing clients first and foremost and then applying for and searching for permanent housing is part of a wraparound approach to achieve more long-term successes for those who come to the shelter.

Housing Case Coordinator Kym Rowell said she loves the new approach. Once guests do their intake interviews and get started on the path to stabilization she can be more helpful in her role: finding stable housing and coordinating support services.

“I know when they come to me that they’ve filled out their paperwork for (3SquaresVT) or Medicaid or SSI (supplemental Social Security income) or disability or any of the other programs they could qualify for, and that they’ve gotten their referral to vocational rehabilitation or a counselor,” she said.

In 2016, 86 percent of the guests at the shelter received such case management services, which provide the backbone of a stable future for many who otherwise wouldn’t have been to achieve it on their own.

“The paperwork is overwhelming, the housing applications are all different and thick, and follow-up is key,” said Rowell. “Many of these people don’t have a phone or a computer or email or don’t know how to use email.”

What might seem like a simple, albeit tedious, task of getting an ID at the Department of Motor Vehicles could involve multiple phone calls back and forth to other towns or states to track down birth certificates and Social Security cards and proof of identity. And that’s just the beginning. Having an ID is the crucial first step in applying for housing.

“It’ s a lot, but it’ s patience. One layer at a time,” said Rowell. “I tell people all the time it’s like an onion. It can be painful, it can make you cry sometimes, but keep peeling away a layer at a time. Go slow.”

The time and patience it takes to navigate the path of getting someone back on their feet is something Good Samaritan employees take in stride and say is time well spent in order to have a real shot at keeping someone stable for the long term.

“That’s sort of the relationship we build. I think that’s why people can move along so well, because they feel cared about, they feel nurtured and that’s the idea. When they come here they’re not just numbers or paperwork, they are human beings in need and we try to fill those needs, whatever they are.” - Judi Joy, Shelter Manager

“That’s sort of the relationship we build,” said Shelter Manager Judi Joy. “I think that’s why people can move along so well, because they feel cared about, they feel nurtured and that’s the idea. When they come here they’re not just numbers or paperwork, they are human beings in need and we try to fill those needs, whatever they are.”

Last year, 71 percent of guests found employment, enrolled in an education or training program or qualified for benefits. Thirty percent were able to be moved into stable housing within 90 days of entering the shelter.

“The wait lists are long,” said Jenkins. “The goal is 90 days or less, but the reality is it can be hard to move people through in 90 days, and as long as they’re taking steps forward to address whatever barriers they might have, we will give them more time.”

Rowell says the wait time for a one-bedroom apartment through the Barre Housing Authority is one year, an efficiency eight or nine months.

“We had someone who waited 10 months. She was here the whole time,” said Rowell. “In that case, what else can we do?”

More transitional housing is something that would help the busy shelter, which was at full capacity for 177 nights last year, sheltering and supporting 224 individuals, Rowell and Jenkins said.

Particularly single-room occupancy, which Jenkins noted they’ve had success with recently, especially amongst their older guests. Sharing communal areas while still having a private room provides renters with a social aspect they wouldn’t otherwise get in a single- occupancy apartment.

“ Many of our clients don’t have the support of family and friends that a lot of us are fortunate to have,” she said. “When people leave the shelter I think they miss that social piece. It’s not great, living in a homeless shelter. We’re nice, it’s clean, it is what it is. There’s not a great quality of life living here, but people do miss the sense of community.”

Lack of affordable housing is nothing new, ringing especially true for the aging population in Vermont, who are transitioning to fixed incomes. More than one third of Vermont households include someone over 60, according to the Vermont Futures Project, based on census data.

Older clients are also among those that can be taken advantage of, though they are not alone. Rowell says they’ve seen mentally ill clients on a fixed income taken advantage of and ultimately losing housing because of it.

Jenkins stressed the need for more affordable housing and more state-supported housing subsidies and vouchers, but perhaps most important is the need for the supportive services many need to sustain that affordable housing.

“If we had a fairy godmother here waving her wand,” said Rowell. “ I would tell her we need transitional housing, subsidized permanent housing and supportive housing programs.”

A fairy godmother Gov. Phil Scott and the state Legislature may not be, but the push for affordable housing seems to be gaining traction on their respective agendas. For now, Good Samaritan Haven continues to hold the line in central Vermont, thanks in large part to their donors and support in the community.

“Its pretty incredible. We are so grateful,” said Rowell. “We have a lot of amazing donors, there are so many things we couldn’t do without them. Any donation is so, so appreciated. Even if you can’t donate things or money, please donate time.”

A list of the most needed items is available at http:// www.goodsamaritanhaven.org and the organization’s business Facebook page.