Housing advocates shine light on homelessness in Vermont

Published: Jan. 28, 2021 at 12:41 AM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Advocates for the homeless in Vermont say the problem of homelessness has grown worse since the start of the pandemic. The groups held a virtual vigil Wednesday to commemorate Homelessness Awareness Day and highlight the continuing problem.

The Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition says there were about 1,000 homeless people in the state this time last year. Now, amid the pandemic, that number has jumped to roughly 2,500. That’s partially due to more people seeking support and resources from the state, including those who are ‘housing-insecure,’ such as people who are couch-surfing and don’t fit the federal definition of homeless.

Marie Lennon of Middlebury describes homelessness as ‘really scary.’ She says she was homeless for seven months in 2016. “Being homeless was not something that I was familiar with. When I was young, my dad had a good job and we didn’t have to worry about a roof over our heads or food on the table or anything like this so this was very terrifying for me,” she said.

In 2015, Lennon lost her mother, father, and significant other within five-and-a-half months. She says after their deaths, she hit rock bottom and decided to move out of her house because she didn’t want the bills to continue piling up.

But with her significant other and her parents gone, and her siblings across the country, Lennon didn’t have any family to turn to. She says she ended up at the Charter House in Middlebury where she stayed for two months before moving to the John Graham Shelter in Vergennes. With financial assistance from the Counseling Services of Addison County, Lennon moved into her apartment in October 2016. But even as the state offers vouchers and subsidized housing for low-income families, Lennon says she wishes the state had more affordable housing. “Even with all of those, the amount of affordable housing is just not enough,” she said.

Travis Poulin of the Chittenden County Homeless Alliance agrees that the state needs to focus on creating and maintaining affordable housing. “Housing advocates that work with the population who has experienced or is experiencing homelessness have often told me that they would like there to be a multi-spectrum of housing options. That’s really the ideal,” Poulin said.

He says before COVID hit, 217 people were experiencing homelessness in Chittenden County. Now, there are 450. He also says COVID funding has allowed the state to offer a rental stabilization program and a mortgage assistance program. He says they helped 156 households experiencing homelessness transition into stable housing through the rapid resolution housing initiative.

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