The Fix: Cut in state funding threatens housing for mother in crisis

Published: Jan. 2, 2020 at 6:17 PM EST
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The state of Vermont is not renewing a contract with the Lund Family Center that funds its transitional housing program for women battling addiction.

That means the seven women and their children now living there don't know where they're going to live and what kind of treatment they'll get. That includes Miranda Sevene, the woman we've profiled for a year in our special report "The Fix: mothers and babies in crisis."

This room has been home for 25-year-old Miranda Sevene and her little girl Ellie for the last 11-months.

In our last meeting right before Christmas, Sevene said she's preparing to take the next big step in her court-mandated drug treatment program at Lund. She's moving from the strict residential treatment program to Lund's transitional housing program called Independence Place. It's a seven-unit building in Burlington that offers a little more breathing room – with a safety net.

"We provide everything from ongoing support for ongoing counseling... job training, life skills counseling, parenting education, financial literacy. So, the goal of Independence Place, we've been so successful, the goal is to help parents live independently once they're done with the program," said Lund's Tricia Coates.

The program is now in jeopardy. The state just pulled its annual funding for Independence Place -- more than a quarter of a million dollars. Without that funding, Coates says they can't keep it open. "No. I don't think so. We'll do our best. That's a big gap, that's a pretty big gap," she said.

Vermont Department for Children and Families Deputy Director Sean Brown says it's not cutting funding for people who need drug treatment, they're just repurposing it. They want a program that's more cost-effective and can serve a lot more people.

"There are currently about 360 homeless families in Vermont right now that we're aware of, and many with similar complex need to the families at Independence Place. This will allow us to provide services to about 100 of those families," Brown said.

"And so under the family-supported housing model, we move families into permanent housing where there's more long-term stability and then we bring in intensive family-based services into their permanent housing model," Brown said.

When it comes to serving women and babies in crisis, she says Lund focuses on quality over quantity. "Our participants are avoiding incarceration, they are avoiding the further ill-effects of substance abuse. The children in our program have higher rates of well-being and do not require the level of state intervention they might need if they didn't have it," Coates said.

Lund says its lease on the seven-unit Burlington building it uses for Independence Place runs out in February and they're not giving up. That's because they don't have a clear plan for what its transitional program will look like in the future. Lund and DCF are meeting the week of January 13th to discuss ways to make sure the seven families -- including Sevene's -- have housing and services during the transition period.