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Sleepout to end homelessness set for Saturday

PEOPLE HELD PLACARDS to draw attention to the plight of the homeless in Addison County during a candlelight vigil in Middlebury last December.

MIDDLEBURY — A group of people will be sleeping out in the cold this coming Saturday night to help make it possible that no one sleeps out in the cold in Addison County this winter.
It is the John Graham Housing and Services’ Sleep Out to End Homelessness, which will take place Dec. 7 in the Marble Works district in Middlebury by the Otter Creek Falls.
John Graham invites the community to participate in its sixth annual candlelight vigil and sleep out to raise funds and awareness to end homelessness. The vigil will begin at 4:30 p.m. on the Middlebury green by St. Stephen’s Church. A dinner will follow sponsored by St. Stephen’s in the church basement.
Organizers are inviting people to sleep out, become fundraisers, or attend the vigil and dinner. For more information call Elizabeth Ready at 802-989-2581 or go to johngrahamshelter.org/sleepout to get involved.
Here are some facts about homelessness:
• Any given night, 100 people in Addison County are homeless.
• Over a thousand Vermonters will live outside or in emergency shelter this winter.
• Most people that John Graham serves are working. But rent for the average two-bedroom apartment in Addison County is $1,016 a month.
• A family would need to earn $40,000 a year to afford a two-bedroom apartment. Yet a minimum wage earner can afford to pay just $475/month and a person on disability can pay just $235/month.
• Many families with children are fleeing abuse, which makes it more difficult to keep a roof over their heads. In 2016 Vermont Department for Children and Families received more than 10,000 reports of abuse and neglect of girls under 18.
• Opiate addiction presents another hurdle to stable housing. More than 110 Vermonters died of opiate overdose in 2018.
With your help, we can change this story. John Graham Housing and Services provides:
• Emergency food and shelter.
• Service supported housing.
• Prevention and intervention for people in crisis.
On Dec. 7 organizers hope a minimum of 40 hearty souls will sleep out, but they can accommodate up to 60. It is expected that many more will come out for the vigil on the Middlebury town green beginning at 4:30 p.m.
“It’s not too late to sleep out, become a fundraiser, or plan to join the vigil,” Ready said. “Our youngest will probably be my granddaughter Willa who is in third grade. We have a number of folks in their seventies who do the sleep out each year.
“In fact young people are leading the way, with at lest three teams of youth preparing to brave the elements. If younger students would like to try, and prefer not to sleep out above the falls, they would be welcome to stage a sleep out at their church or at supporting homes with parents or other folks participating. Each person or team collects donations either on line or in person from people who want to sponsor their sleep out.”
Ready explained that over the 40 years that John Graham has served homeless families in Addison County, the gap between rich and poor has continued to widen. The richest 5 percent of Vermont households have average incomes 9.6 times as large as the bottom 20 percent of households and 3.7 times as large as the middle 20 percent of households.
“We are literally pulling apart, according to Public Assets, a Vermont non-profit that tracks economic trends,” Ready said.
Along with this trend, the need for homeless services has changed significantly. Back in 1980 people who faced homelessness were single people who perhaps had lost a job or run into some bad luck. Today there are many more families with children who are homeless. John Graham has five houses, all filled with families with children. 
“The need for services is much greater.” Ready said. “At John Graham we help people move from temporary shelter to stable housing, but we also help them deal with underlying issues that may cause homelessness. Some people are fleeing violence, or face chronic physical or mental health conditions. Others struggle with addictions and may be in recovery. Some families struggle with child welfare issues.”
Many children grapple with adverse childhood events that can cause trauma, which is difficult to overcome.
“Our trained service coordinators help people get permanent housing and then stick with them to help them get or keep a job, work to resolve health and mental health issues, or finish their education,” Ready said.
For people who are homeless, a supportive community is perhaps the most important factor.
“When people see that others care and are invested in their well being and that of their children, it can make a tremendous difference,” Ready observed.
Participants in last year’s sleep-out remember that snow fell throughout the night and they woke up covered in several inches of cold wet snow. Other years, a cold wind has howled all night. But they knew that this was just a single night. Each person shares the uncertainly and fear that homeless neighbors often feel: not having a safe place to stay, a door that shuts and locks, a place to go after work or school, a private place of one’s own.
“It’s amazing how much dread you can feel on a cold, dark night,” Ready said. “But in the morning we warm up around the fire, share some coffee, and know throughout the coming year many of our neighbors will get safe housing because we spent a cold night by the falls.”

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