Burlington youth shelter prepares for winter, seeks staff and volunteers

Donations are now being accepted to benefit Spectrum Youth and Family Services. That is a Burlington shelter that helps youth experiencing homelessness.
Published: Dec. 1, 2022 at 6:05 AM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Donations are now being accepted to benefit Spectrum Youth and Family Services, the Burlington shelter that helps youth experiencing homelessness.

Spectrum is getting some help this year from the Northwestern Vermont Realtors Association. The group is hosting another coat drive and then dropping off the donations to clothe people who stop by Spectrum.

Will Towne, with the shelter, says a coat is a baseline need during the winter and that it saves lives.

“We have 25 to 35 people coming to our drop-in center every day here in Burlington. They’re looking for, warm coats, things to help them stay warm while they’re outside and, get other basic needs met, whether it’s meals, laundry, connection to their peers, and to services. That’s really what we’re trying to do,” Towne said.

If you have a used or new coat you would like to donate, you can drop it off until December 6th at a number of locations throughout Northwestern Vermont.

While the nonprofit is looking for coats, they also accept other donations throughout the season.

“We were lucky to have the coats coming in but we always need warm winter boots, warm winter gloves, and men’s snow pants are something that I think people don’t necessarily think of. We could always use that. And then just remind people that you know, homelessness is not a choice for these youth and they’re put into a really terrible situation and when it turns cold like this, it really does turn into life and death,” said Towne.

Spectrum serves around 1,000 kids per year among all its different programs. They do have an overnight shelter in Burlington that would be open seven nights a week, but right now, there isn’t enough staff to run it. Towne says they’re focused on finding overnight weekday staff and volunteers. He says people don’t need to have experience in this field, as long as they are compassionate and exhibit good judgment.

Once the shelter opens, there isn’t a referral process. They will take guests in if one of the ten beds is open. If there’s no space, Towne says they work to find other options, like looking to see if there are friends they can stay with, or checking with area partners like COTS or ANEW Place at the Champlain Inn.

Towne says they also help people who are unable to access shelter across the board.

“It’s hard to expand capacity. We have a really tight housing market, so people transitioning out of shelter into permanent housing is a challenge. There’s a lot of great movement being made in the community to develop affordable housing and housing, specifically designated for folks exiting homelessness, but that takes time and the need is right now. So, with the lack of housing transition, then stays become longer in shelters, which then reduces the availability of shelter beds. So, it really does have a trickle-down effect,” said Towne.