Over 144 homeless in Addison County

MIDDLEBURY — George is a single, self-employed carpenter. Things usually get a little slower over the winter months, but he cannot find anything this year. He has not paid his rent in three months, and his landlord continues to call and stop by.
This is just one scenario depicting homelessness in Addison County that Ingrid Pixley presented to an audience of around 30 at Middlebury College’s final poverty symposium lecture on Thursday.
“Every story really sounds different,” said Pixley, property manager of the Addison County Community Trust. “Every person who is homeless is homeless for a different reason, with a different background.”
On Jan. 21, 2010, officials counted 144 homeless people in Addison County alone, according to Pixley. George’s scenario, along with the 10 or so others read aloud during the presentation, were all based on real people in Addison County who have found themselves homeless. Pixley changed the names, but not the content.
Many of the pictures painted by Pixley’s sound bites involve people who have fallen victim to domestic violence, struggled to find work, been injured and cannot work, or suffered a traumatic experience. All of these people have one thing in common — they lack a place to live.
“It’s kind of a real rollercoaster,” Pixley said. “Once you get evicted once, your only options are less-standard housing, and your standard of living keeps on going down, and it’s really hard to pick yourself back up.”
Both the John Graham Shelter in Vergennes and the Charter House in Middlebury have worked to provide temporary or transitional housing for Addison County’s homeless population.
“It’s almost impossible to get out of poverty without assistance of some kind,” said Doug Sinclair, one of the founding supporters of the Charter House. “Many, many people are only one paycheck or one sudden health emergency away from being in poverty. That happens every day. The prolonged recession is making it event harder.”
According to Sinclair, the recession has reduced cash revenues and put pressure on state funds, which continue to be reduced or taken away.
“There’s really no alternative not to have a grassroots effort of some kind and that’s why the Middlebury Community Care Coalition exists,” Sinclair said.
Members of the Middlebury Community Care Coalition, or MCCC, along with volunteers, have kept the Charter House transitional housing program up and running, despite the lack of government funding.
“We have been able to operate using very little in the way of state funds,” he said. “We started six years ago with nothing.”
Rent subsidies, he said, are the only form of income that the Charter House receives from the state, but even these do not come directly to the house. Subsidies come and go with the renters.
“Everything else is coming from the community — it’s a wonderful response,” he said.
Sinclair and others in the MCCC would love to expand their efforts — since they began their community supper program six years ago, they have gone from serving 30 meals, to serving 200 meals each Friday night. The MCCC also began a community lunch program, which Middlebury College students have helped manage the past two summers. The MCCC now has over 600 volunteers who work a total of 18,000 hours a year with no reimbursement.
But it is still not enough to keep up with demand, Sinclair explained. The transitional housing can only afford to be open during the winter months.
“We had planned to open on Dec. 1,” Sinclair said, explaining that the Charter House cannot afford to remain open yearlong. “But we were asked to open on Nov. 8, instead. This year we know that we are going to be full the day that we open.”
Pixley explained why the MCCC have not pursued funding from the state.
“We don’t want to compete with the John Graham Shelter,” she said. “There is a limited amount of money set aside for the county, and we don’t want to take away from them.”
Government funding, Sinclair said, is a dream that is still a long way off. Unlike Joel Berg, a national anti-poverty advocate who spoke earlier in the symposium, Sinclair sees greater hope in local, community efforts than in government initiatives relating to poverty.
“Right now we have people who have nowhere to sleep tonight, and the government isn’t going to be able to take care of it,” Sinclair said. “Perhaps that could all come together in the future, but … there aren’t enough funds to pay for it all, and there are competing organizations that all want to do the same thing. There’s a whole lot of harmony that needs to come to this before that can happen.”
Because Sinclair does not believe that this will be accomplished in his lifetime, he continues to focus on what can be done right here, right now.
“One thing that we should all keep in mind this evening as we are about to partake in a good meal and go back to our homes and be warm and sleep in a warm bed tonight, is that there are folks in this county right now who tonight, will spend the night in their tent or their car or some other place that is not appropriate,” Sinclair said. “The need is very, very great.”
Tamara Hilmes is at [email protected].

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