[Hpn] Homelessness on the rise;Burlington Free Press;Vermont;9/24/01
Morgan W. Brown
Mon, 24 Sep 2001 12:43:18 -0400
Monday, September 24, 2001
Burlington Free Press <http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com>
[Burlington, Vermont, USA]
Local News section
Homelessness on the rise
This is the first in a weekly series exploring selected social problems that
are being addressed by agencies affiliated with the United Way of Chittenden
County. The series coincides with the United Way's annual fall fundraising
By Eve Thorsen
The number of homeless families in Chittenden County has risen dramatically
in the last five years, and nowhere is that more evident than at the COTS
Rental Opportunity Office in Burlington.
Coordinator Janet Green works with families to help them avoid homelessness,
but often there's no quick fix.
"This summer I worked with a woman and her three children. There was no room
at the shelter, so she had her children stay with different family members
around the state at night, and she was sleeping in her car," Green said,
recalling a station wagon packed with clothes and bags of the family's
belongings. "She was also a working mom, so simultaneously while she was
trying to find housing she was having to work."
It took a month for the family to find an affordable apartment.
"Relatively speaking, they found a house pretty quickly," Green said. "Often
it can take around three months. There's less than a 1 percent vacancy rate
for the whole city."
In 1995, COTS served 73 families. In 2000, that number more than quadrupled
-- to 300.
Staff at the Committee On Temporary Shelter are bracing for an even worse
situation following the World Trade Center tragedy, said COTS director Rita
"We think the impact of the tragedy will extend far beyond New York as
companies lay off workers and seasonal staff because of the reduction of
tourists in the fall foliage season," Markley said. "We will feel that
immediately in emergency services in Vermont, whether it's COTS or the Food
Shelf, because the margin of savings people have is so slim. The cost of
housing won't go down, but the wages to pay the rent might not be there."
About 12 percent of the costs for three key COTS programs are funded by the
United Way of Chittenden County, an umbrella organization that raises funds
and helps support programs at 31 agencies and partners in the county. The
United Way recently launched its annual fund-raising campaign with a $3.75
million goal. The campaign relies on employee pledges through individual
company campaigns to generate 70 percent of that total.
At the root of the homeless problem is a lack of affordable housing combined
with low-paying jobs, Markley said. A near-zero vacancy rate has helped push
rents beyond the reach of low-income Vermonters, many of whom earn the
minimum wage, $6.25 per hour. The hourly pay rate would have to be $11.91
for people to be able to work 40 hours a week and afford a two-bedroom unit
at fair market rent of $619. Nearly half the renters in the state cannot
afford the fair market rent for a two-bedroom unit.
Statistics like that translate into lines of families waiting in Green's
"For every one vacancy I have, I probably have close to 10 possible
tenants," Green said. "It seems like the amount of referrals and drop-ins
increases on a daily basis. Fortunately we have apartment owners calling
with some vacancies, so that's helpful, but we could always use more."
-- AGENCY: COTS -- Committee On Temporary Shelter
PROGRAMS: The Waystation, a 36-bed emergency shelter on Church Street; The
Daystation, a drop-in center; The Firehouse Family Shelter, a 24-hour
emergency shelter; Family Services Program to help families in transition.
The Streetwork Program provides support services to support transition;
Rental Opportunity Center; The Wilson Hotel, a 22-unit residence for poor,
elderly and homeless; St. John's Hall, a residence with 18 single rooms and
4 apartments for homeless and working poor; The Smith House, 2-bedroom
apartments and 7 single rooms.
Service Statistics for the last 12 months: 1,600 people served; more than
28,000 bed nights of shelter provided; 203 families helped in finding
affordable housing; 140 local employers in network to increase job
opportunities for homeless; 100 percent school enrollment rate for children
in the shelter.
Families served: 73 in 1995; 300 in 2000.
ANNUAL BUDGET: About $1.8 million, of which $120,568 was provided by the
MORE INFORMATION: 864-7402 or visit www.cotsonline.org
-- UNITED WAY:
CAMPAIGN: Runs through Nov. 16
GOAL: $3.75 million
HOW IT'S SPENT: 8 percent general and administrative expenses; 7 percent
fundraising; 85 percent designated giving and member agencies.
INFORMATION: 864-7541 or visit www.unitedwaycc.org
**In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this
material is distributed without charge or profit to
those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving
this type of information for non-profit research and
educational purposes only.**
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Morgan W. Brown
Montpelier Vermont USA
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