Tents provide shelter for Brattleboro homeless - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Tents provide shelter for Brattleboro homeless

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BRATTLEBORO, Vt. -

Shirley Alex and her two kids have been living at the Morningside Shelter in Brattleboro since April.  "It was a huge relief, it really was," she said.

The 29-bed shelter has a waiting list of more than 30 people. The family is grateful they got a spot. "To have a stable environment for my kids so they can get to school on time and the same roof over your head every night," she said.

During the winter, the family was living in a motel, with help from the state emergency housing voucher program.  When they reached the 84 day limit in April, they ran out of options. This mom was considering a tent. "At least it is something to keep you out of the elements -- out of the rain and the wind," Alex said.

At the Brattleboro Area Drop-in Center, tents have become a hot commodity. "I have one tent left and we gave it to a family of five last Thursday -- and she had three small children," said the center's Lucie Fortier.

The day shelter, which provides a range of services, is now asking the public to donate more tents to meet the needs of the homeless in the area. "When we closed the shelter in April we had seen 172 un-duplicated people last winter come through the shelter," Fortier said.

Officials at the Morningside Shelter say because of budget cuts, the problem of the homeless is going to get worse.  For the past fiscal year, the state spent about $4 million on the emergency housing program.  This year, that number as been reduced to $1.5 million. Homeless advocates say it's easy to get a sense of how those cuts will impact communities by looking at how last year's $4 million was divvied up -- about 9-percent went to Brattleboro and 43- percent to the Burlington area.

Part of the reason for the cuts -- concerns that the state was paying top dollar for hotel rooms. Clients had shelter but not access to programs to help them get back on their feet. The budget cuts come with new guidelines for who qualifies for an emergency hotel voucher. Brattleboro is preparing for even greater need. "Yeah, it is only a tent, but at the very least we can get somebody a little bit of shelter," said Morningside's Joshua Davis.

But at the same time, Davis says more head way needs to made fighting the causes of homelessness -- like keeping people from being evicted from their homes in the first place, more affordable housing, and an increased focus on bringing jobs to the area. "The best that we have to offer is a tent and is that really the best that we can do?  And I would like to challenge us to think about better ways that we can approach homelessness as an entire state," he said.

Shirley Alex, who has housing at least for the time being, offers a challenge of her own.  "Maybe before, or as part of your term in the legislature, that you need to live for a month on minimum wage, or in a tent, and put yourself in other people's shoes," she said.

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