Folks on the front lines of fighting homelessness in Vermont say it's tough work from a shelter.
"For people it is very hard to make the step out of homelessness while you're still in a shelter," said Brenda Torpy of the Champlain Housing Trust.
Thursday, Burlington's Committee on Temporary Shelter joined forces with the Champlain Housing Trust and the Howard Center to announce a new program aimed at changing that.
"This program shoehorns people into the housing market that would never otherwise have a chance," said Rita Markley of COTS.
The partnership is supporting five units of housing in Chittenden County that will help families transition out of homelessness without lengthy stays in shelters or overflow motels, which have made headlines lately. Some homeless people have abused the state-provided vouchers and others have questioned its effectiveness.
"After somebody has finished in an overflow motel they don't have any greater credit standing, they have no housing reference and no better chance of securing long-term housing," Markley said.
Participating families will have access to a number of social service supports like financial literacy and budgeting courses. The effort is being paid for with $130,000 in grant money from Vermont's Agency of Human Service and hopes to expand to 15 units.
"When you are talking about the intensity of services and the complexity of needs of some of the families we are going to be working with, it wouldn't be appropriate to go to a full caseload on July 1st. We really want to see a gradually build up to full capacity," said Angus Chaney of the Vt. Agency of Human Services.
COTS will rent the units as part of "master lease" and in lieu of rent, families will be required to contribute to a pay "Pay it Forward" program during their first year in housing. Those funds will be used to create a nest egg to cover future rent.
"This allows us to take the risk," Torpy said. "It is a risk, it's the right risk. Not everyone is going to succeed the first time, but we know we are giving people a much better shot at success."
The program hopes to be at full capacity by July 2014.
Vermont's Agency of Human Services is funding similar homelessness initiatives in Brattleboro and Rutland for $130,000 each.
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