The event was put on by Vermont Interfaith Action, a nonprofit coalition working toward social justice and compassion. People who have experienced homelessness talked about their experience.Sarah Shettleroe choked back tears describing a situation that left herself and her two daughters without a home in January. Shettleroe said she has a college degree and was working for the state of North Carolina for about five years. She said during the recession the state cut funding for programs, including the one she worked on and she found herself, a single mom, going from making $40,000 a year to nothing.
She tried other jobs such as being a waitress but she just couldn’t make ends meet, so she moved to Florida where she has family. Shettleroe said in Florida she met a man who she thought would take care of her and her daughter.
Eighteen months into the relationship, with another daughter in tow, she said she realized the emotional and verbal abuse she was receiving from the man was not something she wanted her daughters or herself to be around. Shettleroe decided to leave, but in order to do so had to stay in shelters or in the homes of family and friends.
She said her sister convinced her to come to Vermont, saying there were a number of affordable apartments. Shettleroe found a job in February and moved to Vermont at the beginning of March.
“A month and a half later, we still had no place to call home,” she said. “All of our belongings were in the back of our 15-passenger van. And we were once again going from house to house.”
With the help of family and friends, she was finally able to move into an apartment last weekend.
Terry Mason said when he was homeless, he and others without a home had targets on their backs. Mason said they were labeled as druggies, drunks and bums.
“Which is not true,” he said. “It’s people who are down on their luck. Maybe they had lost their jobs, their cars, their homes. Homeless people are human, not a bunch of animals as some people would say.”
Mason wondered what those in the Legislature would do about homelessness if they all of sudden found themselves without a home.
“Maybe then they would realize what these people go through,” he said.
Rev. Beth Ann Maier cited the latest Point-in-Time count used to measure the number of homeless people in the state. 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 count, Maier said 117 people were homeless in Washington County, with 46 of those homeless for the first time. She said another 165 were counted as “precariously housed,” which means people who are couch-surfing or staying with friends and family instead of having their own permanent housing.
“The reasons why people find themselves without a home are as numerous as the people themselves,” she said. “Job layoffs. Chronic health problems. Medical emergencies. The death of a loved one. Broken relationships … are just a few of the many life-altering circumstances which can lead to a person not being able to attain or keep housing.”
The organization pointed to three obstacles standing in the way of eliminating homelessness in the county. The first is the scarcity of safe and affordable rental housing. To address this, the organization says the Vermont Housing Conservation Board needs more funding so that it can create more housing units. The board will also be able to work with owners of “empty houses” to get them on the market to be sold.
The second obstacle, according to Vermont Interfaith Action, is there are too few rental subsidies available from the state. That’s money that allows people to get housing who otherwise couldn’t afford it. To fix this, the VIA is encouraging residents to contact their representatives and senators in the Legislature, asking for more rental subsidies in the state budget.
The third obstacle is that the VIA says there are too few housing support specialists. Again, the organization is calling on residents to contact the Legislature about increasing the capacity to fund the Housing First Program through Pathways Vermont. That would allow Pathways, which advocates for and assists with mental health and other life challenges, to hire more specialists who can then work with more people looking for homes.