Times Argus: Homeless shelters seek new funding

MONTPELIER — Advocates have applied for continued funding for an expansion of homeless services in central Vermont after a successful pilot program last winter. 

Officials at the Good Samaritan Haven homeless shelter in Barre have asked the state to continue funding a new shelter with 20 beds in the basement hall of the Bethany Church on Main Street in Montpelier, which operated between November and April.  

The program was funded by a $600,000, one-time appropriation by the Legislature last year, to be split between Barre and Rutland, the two cities identified as needing support for shelter services to meet growing demand.  

The new Montpelier shelter was an overflow service of Good Samaritan,  central Vermont’s only year-round homeless shelter with 30 beds. The shelter also operated another overflow facility during the winter at the Hedding United Methodist Church in Barre with 14 beds.  

The Legislature agreed to the appropriation as a more effective way to provide shelter, rather than spend money on hotel vouchers during the winter months. Advocates of the funding said shelters were better able to connect the homeless with other services, such as employment and training programs, affordable housing, and mental health and disability services that could lead to more permanent housing. 

However, in Rutland, officials did not use the funding available to provide an additional cold-weather shelter because no local agency was willing to provide additional services, according to Rep. Peter Fagan, R-Rutland City, a member of the House Appropriations Committee that awarded the funding to the shelter program. 

Fagan said there had been ongoing success after Tropical Storm Irene with efforts under the city’s Project Vision programs to establish a domestic abuse shelter and work on starting a family homeless shelter.   

“As far as finding someone to operate the seasonal warming shelter in the shelter, no one has come forward and said they would be willing to do it,” Fagan said 

He said the $300,000 appropriated for shelter services would remain available unless there was a request for the money from an agency for shelter services in another community. 

Support for continued funding for the new Bethany Church shelter in Montpelier came from the Montpelier City Council in a letter to the state Office of Economic Opportunity. 

“The city is proud that the community came together to pilot the Bethany Warming Shelter this winter, ” the letter said. “The organization offers shelter and basic needs but also helps connect people with social services and stable housing.” 

“The city is proud that the community came together to pilot the Bethany Warming Shelter this winter. The organization offers shelter and basic needs but also helps connect people with social services and stable housing.”  Montpelier City Council

The letter accompanied a report and “Program Narrative” by Brook Jenkins, executive director of Good Samaritan, with statistics on guests served by shelter programs in Montpelier and Barre. 

The report said area shelters offered a total of 77 beds, with as many as 65 to 70 guests on many nights through winter. 

In all, the Good Samaritan served 191 people, providing a total of 8,632 bed nights, with an average length of stay of 33 days. 

Special populations included 55 chronically homeless, 54 survivors of domestic violence (of which 16 were fleeing domestic violence), 25 youth under the age of 25, and 16 veterans. 

The report said most of the guest had some form of disability, including: mental health (100), physical disability (73), chronic health conditions (55), drug abuse (26), developmental disability (26), and alcohol abuse (19). 

There were some important successful outcomes for people cared for by the Good Samaritan Haven and its satellite shelters. According to the report, 95 guests were assessed and met with a case manager within three days of entry; 78 guests found employment, enrolled in an education or training program or qualified for benefits within 90 days of entry; and 52 guests moved into stable housing.  

Across the state, the use of shelter services meant there was a 68 percent decrease in homeless people staying in motels during adverse weather conditions, and a 49 percent decrease in motel bed nights for singles, down from 2,713 in 2017 to 1,383 in 2018, the report said. There was no breakdown for the Barre area shelter savings on motel costs. 

Suggestions in the report for future funding included: 

— Providing daytime needs for the homeless at Bethany Church and Another Way, a transition service for the homeless on Barre Street in Montpelier.

— A day shelter in Barre.

— Addressing mental illness and supporting homeless people with acute psychotic symptoms. 

On Thursday, a report on Vermont’s annual homelessness was released by the Vermont Coalition to End Homelessness and the Chittenden County Homeless Alliance, which said 1,291 Vermonters were found to be homeless on the night of Jan. 31, 2018, an increase of 66 people, or 5 percent, compared to the 2017 one‐day count. Among other findings, the report said this year’s count saw the lowest number of people staying in unsheltered locations in the past eight years, and reported 94 percent were in a sheltered location of homelessness, while just 6 percent were unsheltered.

Jenkins said the shelter agency had made a request for funding this year through a competitive grant process and said she hoped to hear from the state within a week. 

“I think we demonstrated there is a need for this expanded capacity in the region,” Jenkins said. 

“Connecting people with services they need is a key piece. That’s what’s missing when people go into hotel, where they have a roof over the head, but it does nothing to address their underlying issues: employment help, looking for housing or making a referral for mental health. That’s critical to helping people move forward,” Jenkins added. 

stephen.mil[email protected] 

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