Op/Ed

Living Together: It takes many to aid the unhoused

HEIDI LACEY

Fifth in a series

Heidi Lacey is executive director of Charter House Coalition.

Each day in the news, tales of woe involving people who are unhoused can be found. The message is loud. Disguised in intellectual words and politically correct terms; people living in the unhoused category hear only one thing, “You are not wanted here!” 

The Middlebury Homelessness Task Force (MHTF) has been asked to share information about resources available. We’ve been asked to help identify solutions to the unsightly group of tents that were taking up public real-estate, and will, without a doubt, return under a local bridge as the weather warms. We’ve been asked to identify solutions “other than the obvious 300 units of affordable housing” that are needed in our rural part of Vermont. One goal of the MHTF is to change the message from “You are not wanted here!” to “We see you ALL, and there are options!” 

This week we offer an overview of the organizations that are serving all persons, regardless of housing status, in one way or another. Some of the resources and options available are as follows: 

Charter House Coalition, (CHC) Counseling Services of Addison County (CSAC), Gather, Open Door Clinic (ODC) and Turning Point of Addison County (TPAC) are literally, stepping “out” to reach people who do not live inside four walls. This group of providers regularly gives face-to-face support to people living outside and throughout Addison County. Through these connections, there have been improved relationships and we’ve seen more engagement with service providers who have become trusted faces. What have we learned? We need to keep showing up and being active listeners for the people we aim to support. 

Organizations like Addison County Community Action and HOPE are available to assist with all kinds of essential services. Addressing food insecurity, heating crisis, access to affordable essential household and personal items. Financial assistance is also available to help keep people housed or to assist with costs associated with moving for those that qualify. Both organizations offer housing case management.

Addison County Housing Works (ACHW) and John Graham Housing Services (JGHS), both manage affordable housing properties and strive to keep their units accessible. Their work demonstrates an exemplary tenant-landlord relationship through respectful and non-discriminatory services while housing a population that private landlords (mostly) avoid at all costs. ACHW regularly reports having a slim (1%-6%) vacancy rate. JGHS’s portfolio includes alternative models such as single room occupancy units, which some argue is a more favorable transition from homelessness to independent housing.

Atria Collective, formerly WomenSafe, is our local domestic violence service provider and is available 24 hours a day via their hotline. Atria also provides housing assistance for survivors of domestic violence.

CSAC is available for emergent mental health consultation and support 24 hours a day via their emergency team. In addition to street outreach, CSAC regularly coordinates with service providers and emergency room staff to coordinate care for people seeking mental health services. 

CHC and JGHS are the two local emergency shelters with a combined total of 55 beds available. Additionally, CHC offers up to five beds nightly from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. on a first come, first served basis. Both shelters remain full. Services offered include temporary shelter, housing case management and referrals to essential services. Meals and supplemental food programs are available. Currently, JGHS serves individuals and households with children while CHC provides shelter to adult individuals. Both providers are available 24 hours a day by phone. CHC offers after-hours intake when space is available.

TPAC has expanded its services to include 24-hour accessibility. First responders and persons experiencing incidents involving substance use, addiction and those seeking recovery needs now have an option to connect with trained recovery coaches when the need presents. This partnership will continue to be more and more necessary as the long-term effects of substance use will impact our community. Savida in Vergennes provides opioid and other addiction/rehabilitation services.

Agencies serving special populations include Addison County Home Health and Hospice, Addison County Parent-Child Center, Addison County Restorative Justice, Age Well, Vermont Adult Learning and Vermont HireAbility. 

All of the organizations could attest that having people in affordable housing first would allow opportunities for their services to be more efficient.

For more information about housing initiatives and resources, contact your local Addison County Housing Coalition at [email protected]. The United Way of Addison County website is also an incredible resource, at unitedwayaddisoncounty.org. The MHTF meets monthly and is open via zoom to all. For more information, email [email protected]. 

Remember, “We see you ALL, and there are options!” Options for service and compassionate collaborations.

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Heidi Lacey is the executive director of Charter House Coalition and Co-Chair of the Addison County Housing Coalition. Additionally, she supports the work and efforts of the MHTF and is a board member of the Housing and Homeless Alliance of Vermont. Heidi is a firm believer that all people just want to feel understood and that direct engagement with others is the best way to understand.

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