BARRE, Vt. – Vermont is continuing to make investments to expand emergency community housing for the homeless to reduce its reliance on more expensive motel rooms.
This year, Vermont has spent $1.5 million supporting the addition of 101 emergency shelter beds, 18 shelter rooms for homeless families, and 17 short-term stay apartments for families and for other programs. Some of the apartments and rooms were new projects last year that the state is continuing to fund. That’s on top of $700,000 spent last year on expanding capacity.
“We saw early success with it last year and we’re hoping to build on that success this year,” he said.
Community-based shelters give people an opportunity to connect with support and services rather than be isolated in motel rooms, officials said.
As winter approaches, the demand for shelter is going up. More calls are coming into the Good Samaritan Haven, in Barre, which this week opened its seasonal overflow shelter in a city church, adding 14 beds for men.
To ensure that any homeless individual has a safe place to stay during harsh winter weather, Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin instituted a cold-weather exception policy under the general assistance emergency housing program in 2012 to relax the eligibility for temporary shelter. The change was prompted in part by the death of a homeless man found lying on a heating grate on a Burlington street in December 2011. An autopsy determined that Peter O’Toole died from a mixture of alcohol and prescription drugs.
At first, the cold-weather exception applied primarily to motel rooms, Brown said.
Since then, a seasonal so-called low-barrier shelter, which accommodates people even if they are not sober, opened two years ago in Burlington and last year in St. Johnsbury.
Vermont also in 2012 saw an increase in the number of kids who were homeless, said Angus Chaney, chairman of the Governor’s Council on Homelessness. In response, the agency launched a program to provide targeted services to homeless families.
Last year, the agency’s secretary and Shumlin announced a statewide initiative to end child and family homelessness in Vermont by 2020.
The community and state efforts appear to be paying off, according to the numbers, officials said.
The total number of homeless Vermonters declined by 28 percent from 2015 to 2016 in a one-night count in January. The number of homeless families with children dropped by 22 percent in the same period, Chaney said.
New Hampshire also saw a decline during an annual one-day count of homeless individuals in January that showed roughly 1,300 people were homeless in the state, the lowest number in the past five years.
Despite those decreases, there’s still a need for services.
Cathy Kuhn, director of the New Hampshire Coalition to End Homelessness, said shelters such as New Horizons, in Manchester, the largest one helping single people, have done a good job of meeting the population where it’s at. But the need for more room for families isn’t going away.
“Even I am astounded by the number of families that we are seeing in their cars outside because we just don’t have enough family shelter beds,” she said.