Vt. services for the homeless difficult due to harsh weather - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Vt. services for the homeless difficult due to harsh weather

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Harsh winter days and bitter nights have been a constant struggle for many throughout Chittenden County.

"We've really seen that it's just hard to go to different appointments, see specialists, make sure to eat the best that you can given the circumstances," said Liz Fehrenbach, a Safe Harbor Health Center nurse.

The Safe Harbor Health Center in Burlington works to provide services for the homeless, but with this year's long winter, and more snow on the way, stretching resources has been difficult. Faehraback split her days between seeing patients and doing outreach in the community.

"I think our goal in the winter is just to make sure we've got our eyes on everybody pretty regularly and make sure that we're helping them manage their medical conditions," said Fehrenbach.

This winter Safe Harbor has seen on average 100 patient visits a month. That's up a little bit from last year, and has spent most of the winter operating at full capacity dealing with everything from frostbite to substance abuse.

It's not just medical services that have been in high demand this winter; access to meals and food programs has also been a struggle.

"Every winter is rough, this winter there's definitely been an increase of people because of the food stamp cut and because we're seeing a harsh winter, it's cold out there," said Sophia Morton from the Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf.

The Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf provides five days' worth of groceries per family each month, but this winter they've been asking for donations to keep up with demand.

"On a slower day, we'll see about 100, which is still a lot of people but we can get up to between 300 and 500 in winter when it's really cold and again finances are tight for a lot of people," said Morton.

For community members like Tammy Bleau, who is working toward housing and an education, dependable services are vital.

"It's been a little difficult because of transportation, I just relocated from Brattleboro, Vermont," said Bleau, a student at the Community Kitchen Academy.

Certification programs like the Community Kitchen Academy at the food shelf have helped her through the winter.

"It's been really helpful to have the advocates from here and rehab to help me get along and meet my potential goals," said Bleau.

"We definitely stay open, we do our best to make sure that we are here providing the food no matter what the circumstances are but there really is no good way, unfortunately, to prepare for the snow. We just hope that people will be able to find their way to the food shelf," said Morton.

The Vermont Department for Children and Families has also been working to get people off the streets by providing hotel vouchers. Last January they provided about 12,000 hotel stays. This winter that number jumped to 43,000 hotel stays. Anyone looking for assistance can contact Safe Harbor or their local food shelf.

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