Spectrum sleepout goes virtual to raise awareness of homelessness

ESSEX, Vt. (WCAX) Spectrum Youth & Family Services' annual sleepout to benefit the homeless was virtual this year due to coronavirus concerns. Meanwhile, a local organization has come up with a creative way to house the homeless in campers.

Instead of setting up tents and sleeping bags as a group, this year's 94 Spectrum sleepout participants did so individually in their backyards.

The idea is to comply with the state's guidance on social distancing and the stay-at-home order while still holding the annual event. The organization says it was important the sleepout went on, especially now, as area services for the homeless struggle with finding safe places for their clients and staff to stay amid the COVID-19 crisis.

Participants and partners raised $225,000 of its $300,000 goal as of Friday morning. You can still donate online.

Watch the video to see the full interview with Spectrum's Executive Director Mark Redmond.

Meanwhile, local organizations are coming up with creative ways to house the homeless amid the stay-at-home order. If you see campers rolling into North Beach Campground in Burlington, it's not because it's opening early. The city's low-barrier shelter run by Anew Place is closing its usual facility and instead housing clients in trailers at the campground.

Leaders tell us they realized it was impossible to keep clients and staff away from each other in the confined space. In collaboration with the Burlington Parks, Recreation, & Waterfront team, the organization just put 27 trailers provided by Vermont Country Campers on the grounds to house the 25 clients it couldn't put up in hotels. The campers moved in Thursday night.

"As we all kind of put our heads together, this was the best solution that we thought would kind of balance giving them a safe place to stay, also protecting our clients from each other, spread among themselves to our staff, and also isolation from the larger community, which I think we're all struggling with -- how do we isolate from the larger community around us?" said Kevin Pounds, Anew Place's executive director.

Pounds says usually an operation like this could take as long as a month, but they did it in four days. Anew hired a few additional employees to serve during the day, along with the usual crew working overnight, so the grounds are monitored 24/7.