Times Argus: New money from state to boost aid for homeless

BARRE — Homeless advocates are working to add services in central Vermont with the help of a $300,000 appropriation by the Legislature in the last session.  

The money will be used to expand services managed by the Good Samaritan Haven homeless shelter in Barre by adding 40 beds in central Vermont during the winter months, shelter executive director Brooke Jenkins said. The shelter already houses 30 people with 14 more overflow beds at the nearby Hedding United Methodist Church. 

The Legislature made a one-time appropriation of $600,000 to expand homeless services in Barre and Rutland, rather than spend money on hotel vouchers in the cold winter months. The reason, Jenkins and other advocates said, is because shelters were better able to connect the homeless with other services, including affordable housing and mental health and disability services that could lead to more permanent housing.  

“The legislative interest, broadly, is to help people move into permanent housing. There are groups of people who are homeless who have been using the emergency housing funding which pays for motel vouchers. It’s extraordinarily costly and just not a good situation to be housing people in hotels rather than getting them into permanent housing.”   - Rep. Mary Hooper, D-Montpelier

“With this money, they’re hoping to decrease spending money on putting people in hotels,” Jenkins said. 

Jenkins said part of the funding would be used to try and reduce the number of homeless people in Montpelier by providing a shelter in the city. 

“We’re working with the Montpelier Housing Task Force to try and make that happen,” said Jenkins. “There’s a need in Montpelier and we’re trying to create something there but we’re not sure what that’s going to look like.” 

Jenkins said the Barre shelter quickly fills up between November and April. Jenkins said the new state money would help to provide additional shelter facilities in another or possibly two new locations in central Vermont. 

“There’s no room at the Good Samaritan, so we have to do it somewhere else,” Jenkins said.  

Rep. Mary Hooper, D-Montpelier, is one of the legislators who supported the state funding for homeless programs and also works with the Montpelier Housing Task Force.  

She said there were already efforts by statewide housing groups to build more affordable housing in central Vermont. Groups like the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board and Housing Vermont are partnering with local housing organizations like Downstreet Housing and Community Development in Barre on two projects. One would create 18 affordable, one-bedroom apartments in Montpelier’s 1875 French Block on Main Street, and the other envisions a mix of 40 affordable and market-rate apartments above the Taylor Street Transit Center. Both projects will begin this year and take about a year to complete, officials have said.  

Christ Church on State Street is also hoping to give up space occupied by its parish house adjacent to the church to allow a housing complex to be built as part of the church’s “Centers of Creativity” community project to end homelessness by 2020. Although delayed by the other housing projects in the city, church leaders are still hoping the project will begin at a later date.  

In the meantime, Hooper said, it was important to connect the homeless with social programs such as mental health and disability services that could lead them to permanent housing opportunities.  

“The legislative interest, broadly, is to help people move into permanent housing,” Hooper said. “There are groups of people who are homeless who have been using the emergency housing funding which pays for motel vouchers. It’s extraordinarily costly and just not a good situation to be housing people in hotels rather than getting them into permanent housing.”  

Shelters like the one in Barre are preferable to paying for a hotel, she said.  

“To be clear, the sort of housing we’re talking about is also temporary, but there are service providers that can work with these individuals and help guide them into better placement and make sure they are safe and receiving the services they need, rather than being warehoused in a hotel. I am extremely grateful to Good Samaritan Haven for shouldering the work,” Hooper added.  

It is also hoped that a $35 million bond proposed by Gov. Phil Scott and approved by the Legislature specifically for affordable housing programs will help reduce homelessness in the state, Hooper said.  

“I’m sure there will be an effort to create the right types of housing,” Hooper said. 

Good Samaritan Haven will hold its biggest fundraiser of the year at Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier Sept. 15 at 7 p.m. The event will include live music, hors d’oeuvres, craft beer and an auction. Tickets costing $25 are available at www.goodsamaritanhaven.org. 

stephen.mills@timesargus.com