Worries over growing number of homeless in Rutland - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Worries over growing number of homeless in Rutland

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"When you are doing 37,000 meals a year there is a need. And when you are going from 90 meals a day to 120, to 125, 130... They are there," said Sharon Russell, the executive director of the Open Door Mission.

Russell has been with the Open Door Mission for 37 years and says the homeless problem in Rutland is on the rise. The Open Door Mission has 51 beds, and Russell says they are full nearly every night. While Open Door Mission is consistently full, providing food and shelter for many, the problem is growing, and Russell says in plain sight.

"You might not see it downtown Rutland-- I see it downtown Rutland. But my eye is keyed into that. I can drive through downtown Rutland-- it's called reading the streets-- and they are there," Russell said.

The most recent survey by the Vermont Department for Children and Families found that approximately 2,900 Vermonters are homeless at any given time. And the largest concentrations of people in need are in Burlington and Rutland. The Open Door Mission is the only coed shelter in Rutland.

Reporter Ali Freeman: Do you think there is enough in Rutland, you are at capacity?

Sharon Russell: Yes, I do because nobody is going to go without a bed.

But others, like Pam Shambo with BROC Community Action, disagree and say the demand for housing is outstripping resources, especially for families.

"Part of the problem is there is not a family shelter in this area and there is definitely a need for one. We see the family end of it. Yes, we have shelters where men can go, single men and single women, but no family shelter," Shambo said.

And new state restrictions on the motel voucher system mean an estimated 20 percent of individuals and families who were put up in hotels last year will not qualify for that service this year. Shambo expects even more families seeking help, who have run out of places to go. But after seeing individuals abuse the voucher system, Russell says the new restrictions will end up helping those who need it the most.

"My street people keep me aware," Russell said. "They say, you know what, they are up there partying there every night. They don't appreciate it either, because they know the system that they need is being abused."

Russell says the bottom line is to make sure everyone is getting a hand up, not a handout.

Rutland City Police Chief James Baker says the department has dealt with the abuse of the voucher system and the illegal activity that took place. He says there needs to be a conversation about making sure people who will not qualify for a room this year, don't slip through the cracks.

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