Efforts to get Vermont’s homeless inside as temperatures plummet outside

Published: Feb. 3, 2023 at 5:54 PM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - In freezing conditions like this, the best bet is to stay inside. But that can be a problem for people without permanent housing. That’s why community organizations across Vermont are ramping up operations to try to save lives.

“The hardest part, I think, about being out here, homeless in the streets of like the Chittenden County area, is finding places to sleep,” said Sylas Benoit of Burlington.

The brutally cold temperatures Friday and Saturday will be tough on anyone who steps outside, but community organizations in Vermont are really worried about those experiencing homelessness.

“We’re seeing an excess of 40 or so individuals who are currently unsheltered in Chittenden County, possibly more than that,” said Sarah Russell, a Special Assistant to End Homelessness in Burlington.

People like Dino Clark and Sylas Benoit, who I talked to outside a daytime shelter in Burlington.

“People camping, garages, people start little fires in the corners like I told you. People scraping. You name it. They’re just trying to find a little place where they can be warm, they feel safe,” Clark said.

“The first week or two that I was homeless out here, I did live in a tent and I built a fire. I built a couple fires actually. We got little petroleum jelly canisters that you light the wick and we use those inside of the tent, stay warm at night,” Benoit said.

In response to the dangerous situation, several Vermont agencies and departments are working to support Vermonters in need by making food and shelter more accessible.

“We see anywhere from 80 to 145 people today obviously with the extreme cold weather. We’re expecting some more people in today. It’s so dangerous with the weather, right? So, we want to make sure people are healthy. They get the food they need. They get a warm place to sleep. This is really important, and they get connected to services,” said Paul Dragon, the executive director of the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity.

During this extreme cold, day warming shelter hours will be extended, while the overnight shelters will open earlier in the afternoon so there is no time in which people are left out in the frigid cold.

“Be safe. Take advantage of your resources around Chittenden County. They have a lot more homeless resources than many places in Vermont, such as the feeding Chittenden food shelf and the COTS Daystation. Those are places to go and get warm, get food, take a shower. So just take advantage,” Benoit advised.

The daytime and overnight warming shelters will continue their extended hours and services until Sunday, and officials there say they won’t turn anyone away.

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Warming shelters open up across Vermont as temperatures drop