Times Argus:Homeless survey brings mixed results

MONTPELIER — The latest point-in-time tally used to count the homeless people in Vermont shows an increase in that population, though officials hope the state is heading in the right direction.

The count is a partial inventory of all the sheltered and unsheltered homeless nationwide on a select night in January, when demand is likely at its peak. According to the results of the count, Vermont saw an 11 percent increase in homelessness when compared to the count in 2016. The count took place Jan. 24.

The count also found 25 percent of the homeless population were children and 47 percent of those counted were homeless for the first time. Washington County saw an increase of 10 percent in its homeless population while Rutland County saw an increase of 29 percent. Chittenden County saw a 12 percent decrease in its homeless population and Franklin County saw a 17 percent decrease.

Officials admit the count isn’t completely accurate, as it’s more of a snapshot than a detailed look into the number of homeless people in Vermont, but they say it’s the only tool they have to get federal funding to help combat homelessness.

Al Gobeille, secretary of the Agency of Human Services, wrote a letter for the report which said, in part, “This report features both hopeful news from regions that are documenting sustained reduction in homelessness, and more sobering news from parts of the state where more people were without housing this year than last.”

“I applaud the creativity and perseverance I see in all communities and organizations that are working to reduce and end homelessness in Vermont. Every year brings a better understanding of the factors that cause people to lose housing and the interventions that are best suited to address them.” - Al Gobeille, secretary of the Agency of Human Services

He added, “I applaud the creativity and perseverance I see in all communities and organizations that are working to reduce and end homelessness in Vermont. Every year brings a better understanding of the factors that cause people to lose housing and the interventions that are best suited to address them.”

Brooke Jenkins is the executive director of the Good Samaritan Haven in Barre and is also on the board of the Vermont Coalition to End Homelessness, which helped compile the report with the Chittenden County Homeless Alliance. Jenkins said she was disappointed to see the number of homeless people go up.

“ That being said, I’m still cautiously optimistic that there is some good work being done in the state,” she said.

Jenkins said the night of Jan. 24 was particularly cold, so that meant more people were put up in hotels by the state, which was one possible reason for the increase.

Jenkins said the Legislature put $300,000 into the state budget this year to expand shelter capacity in Washington County. She said that money had been going to housing homeless people in hotels during the winter, but doing so wasn’t productive because they get no support and don’t get meals like they do at shelters.

“ I’m optimistic about that, that the Legislature realized there’s a better way to spend that money and that funding is coming to our community,” she said. “We can do better and we will do better.”

Jenkins said one way they can do better is to increase the amount of affordable housing.

According to the news release announcing the results of the count, Vermont’s average Fair Market Rent for a two-bedroom apartment is $ 1,139. Officials say in order to afford this, without paying more than 30 percent of household income on rent and utilities, a household must earn $ 45,545 annually, translating to a $ 21.90 hourly wage.

Jenkins said those who are homeless also need support services so they can keep their housing once they get it.

She pointed to one such service in Pathways Vermont where someone obtains housing and a case manager checks in on them. She said they will receive help with things like budgeting or treatment for issues like mental illness or a substance use disorder.

“For whatever reason, a lot of people don’t have the support of their family or friends,” she said. “So the community has to step up and help.”

eric.blaisdell@timesargus.com