Food shelf sees record need as Burlington’s homeless population surges

Published: Jun. 28, 2023 at 4:59 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Social service organizations across the Champlain Valley are feeling the crunch as the housing crisis continues. That includes the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity’s Feeding Chittenden and Community Resource Center where they are breaking records with the number of people walking in the door.

This week, Feeding Chittenden, a program in Burlington’s Old North End that serves hot meals on weekday mornings, saw more people walk through the doors than ever before, with 182.

Last January, they were averaging fewer than 100 guests per day. Now, they are working to keep up with demand for the people who need it most.

“It’s amazing knowing I can come get a hot breakfast every morning,” said Shastina, who is living in a van. “There’s to-go meals-- that’s what I’m waiting for now-- and coffee. It’s such a luxury. It makes me feel like I’m abundant even though I don’t have much money.”

Shastina is just one of the many who frequently seek out a meal at Feeding Chittenden. Others who come for food say they have seen a drastic increase in need.

“There’s a long line every morning whenever I come here. There’s a way longer line than I’ve ever seen it,” said Kareem Johnson, who is homeless in Burlington.

It’s not just hot meals. Volunteers stock the shelves of the food shelf, which is feeling the crunch of increased need. They’ve seen numbers rise from an average of 93 people per day in January to 125 people per day in June.

“Any given day maybe isn’t the biggest day we’ve had, but our five biggest days we’ve had have all been in the last two weeks,” said Adam Hall, the outreach coordinator at CVOEO.

“We work hard to provide enough food for everybody that comes to our facility here,” said Midhat Hadzic, the food service manager with Feeding Chittenden.

Hadzic has been with Feeding Chittenden for 14 years. He says they are working to stretch all their food to meet the new demands.

“Every day we start pretty much from scratch and then try to provide food for everybody. There’s lots and lots of personal interactions with people trying to see what is the need because we are helping people with other stuff not just food,” Hadzic said.

CVOEO attributes some of the rise in demand to people exiting the state hotel program and gathering in Burlington to access services.

“We’ve been struggling keeping up with food and prices have risen, food is a constant effort of fundraising and getting donations, it’s absolutely critical,” said Paul Dragon, the executive director of CVOEO.

CVOEO says around 63% of people who are coming are either homeless, in shelters, or might be imminently homeless. The other 37% are people who are housed in the community. CVOEO says having community members gathering is an important part, as well, but also some of the housed people coming could also be food insecure.

Because of the quick influx of people, Feeding Chittenden has temporarily stopped allowing people to eat inside the resource center because there are simply too many people at one time. They are working to build more space, but in lieu of that, they hope to open more of their space in the coming months so more people can sit down and eat.

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