Homelessness report sends mixed signals: State numbers down but local shelters full

ADDISON COUNTY — While a statewide estimate indicates the number of homeless people living in Vermont declined this past winter by 15.5 percent (202 people), local advocates said they saw no let-up — or vacancies — in Addison County shelters during the coldest months.
Discussion on the topic arose recently after the Vermont Coalition to End Homelessness and the Chittenden County Homeless Alliance the “2019 Point In Time Count.” The report provides a snapshot of homelessness in the Green Mountain State during a count taken on Jan. 23 of this year.
That count found, among other things, a homeless population of 1,089, down from 1,291 at the same point in 2018. The 1,089 homeless people represented 772 total households — a decrease of 16 percent (145 households) compared to the year before.
But the report also placed the number of unsheltered Vermont individuals at 114, a 39-percent bump from last year.
“Insufficient affordable housing units, housing subsidies and capacity to provide individualized services that fit the needs of individuals and families who are homeless continue to burden prevention and intervention efforts,” the report reads.
The 2019 Point In Time Count also provides homelessness findings for Addison County for the night of Jan. 23. The report found locally:
•12 “chronically homeless households.”
•52 total households representing 81 individuals. Nine of the households had children. That compared to 67 homeless households in the county in 2018, and 58 in 2017.
•16 households experiencing homelessness for the first time.
•21 individuals with “severe’ mental health problems, and two veterans.
•12 people fleeing domestic violence situations.
•Of the 81 homeless individuals, 42 were men, 37 woman, one who identified as transgender, and another who identified as gender nonconforming.
•63 of the county’s homeless were white, 10 were black, and eight were of other/multiple races.
•31 of the county’s homeless population were between the ages of 24-54; and 16 were aged 55 and older.
Local advocates were intrigued by the report’s numbers and painted a somewhat different homelessness picture in Addison County than the statewide scenario.
Peter Kellerman, co-director of John Graham Housing & Services in Vergennes, pointed to numbers in the report that acknowledge the needs of the homeless population are increasing.
For example, the report found increases in the percentage of homeless who are experiencing serious health problems and/or other challenges. It said that across the state 190 people self-identified as “chronically homeless,” a 24-percent increase compared to 2018. And 351 people reported having a severe mental illness, a 6-percent rise from 2018, Kellerman noted.
“Shelters throughout the state, including ours, remain full,” Kellerman said through an email response to the Independent.
He said clients at the John Graham Emergency Shelter are on average staying longer for some of the following reasons:
•There continues to be a shortage of affordable housing for low-income families and individuals in Addison County.
•Wages are not sustainable to support a household at fair market rates for rental units.
•The needs of the homeless population being served have increased dramatically due to trauma and persistent mental health issues that are disabling.
“Consequently, the demand for ongoing, comprehensive service coordination by direct service providers, well beyond a transition from shelter to permanent housing, has reached a critical stage,” Kellerman said.
Doug Sinclair is co director of the Charter House Coalition, which operates a warming shelter at 27 North Pleasant St. in Middlebury. Like Kellerman, he reported no let-up in demand for homeless services in Middlebury this winter, a demand so acute the coalition has agreed to keep the shelter open during the warmer months, for as long as funding holds out.
The Middlebury warming shelter was at capacity with 18 people during the evening of Memorial Day, May 27. Shelter officials have reluctantly had to turn some visitors away due to being full for the evening. Those folks are referred to other service providers.
“I don’t think there was any diminishment in the numbers of the (homeless) in Addison County,” Sinclair said. “I believe the statewide numbers are misleading compared to what’s happening in the rest of the state outside of Chittenden County.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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