[Hpn] On the margins: Homeless Vermonters seek shelter, solace as the seasons turn; Vermont Guardian; Front Page; week of Nov. 5 - 11, 2004; Vol. 1 - Issue 7

Morgan W. Brown Morgan W. Brown" <morganbrown@gmail.com
Wed, 10 Nov 2004 14:13:01 -0500

The November 5 - 11, 2004 edition (Vol. 1 - Issue 7) of the Vermont
Guardian featured a front page article (with continuance on page 18)
concerning homelessness in Vermont.

The print and Web editions include an excellent color photo

The article is available online via the Vermont Guardian at:

On the margins: Homeless Vermonters seek shelter, solace as the seasons turn

For those not inclined to follow the link however, below is a
forwarded copy of the text version (no photo enclosed of course).

Morgan <morganbrown@gmail.com>
Morgan W. Brown
Montpelier Vermont USA
Norsehorse's Home Turf:


-------Forwarded article-------

Vermont Guardian
November 5 - 11, 2004
Vol. 1 - Issue 7
Front page, with continuance on page 18
[print edition photo caption and credits:
Michelle stands in front of her newly built shelter
for the winter Saturday afternoon in Brattleboro.
photo by Zachary Stephens]

On the margins: Homeless Vermonters seek shelter, solace as the seasons turn
By Dan DeWalt | Special to the Vermont Guardian

Editor's Note: Some of the people interviewed for this article did not
want their names to be published because of the stigma attached to
homelessness. Either their last names have been omitted, or they were
identified by initial only.

BRATTLEBORO — At the edge of shopping plazas, under bridges, and along
riverbanks, Vermont's homeless population is tucked anonymously into
the landscape. Some camp on the fringes of town with the consent of
private landowners. Others are within a stone's throw of downtowns,
where, often unbeknownst to their neighbors, they exist in a parallel
world devoid of the creature comforts most of us take for granted.

Every year around this time, as the mercury begins to dip, their
thoughts turn to winter, and how they will survive it.

"In the last year, around 5,000 Vermonters experienced homelessness,"
said Kurt Reichelt, development director for the Committee on
Temporary Shelter (COTS). In Burlington, "there are over 200 on any
given night, many of them families."

Their campsites tell their histories through the refuse of past
occupants — collapsed tent sites, mounds of broken bottles, broken
shopping carts, and ruined clothing.

Michelle and P. have a tent and a tarp set up at the edge of a ravine
in Brattleboro. A year and a half ago, they left this area to live in
Portsmouth, NH, where Michelle kept a steady job for almost a year.
But that didn't last.

"Rents were high and you couldn't find a place to live," Michelle
said. "My work was a three-mile walk from where we camped."
Eventually, she lost the job due to tardiness.

Although the majority of homeless families have at least one parent
employed, various factors work to create a perfect storm of difficulty
in achieving stable housing, Reichelt said.

Cuts in federal funding for Section 8 housing assistance are affecting
the ability of some 700 Vermont families to pay their bills. Fuel and
heating prices are also rising, while fuel assistance is decreasing,
he said. "A $400-$500 car repair bill can be enough to set someone
behind," added Reichelt.

Looking for Good Samaritans

Arthur and Cynthia arrived in Barre earlier this year. Arthur had been
working and living on a dairy farm in northern Vermont. "We found a
place to camp outside of town. I was working at Cabot Creamery and we
were looking for a place to live. We camped a month or so, then went
to the shelter. We stayed there two months, but couldn't find a place
to rent," he said.

In Barre, the Good Samaritan Haven is a 20-bed shelter that is usually
full. Director Paul Mazzetti said there are about 30 homeless people
in the area that he knows of, most of them families.

"This summer, we've hit numbers of people asking for shelter that are
[normally seen] in October or November. It's getting worse and worse,"
Mazzetti said.
The state department of Prevention, Assistance, Transition and Health
Access traditionally helps people in dire straits. "Now, this dries up
quickly through greater need and fewer resources," Mazzetti noted.

Last year, Good Samaritan served 200 homeless people. "About one half
were there because of a single large expense that prevented them from
paying their rent." said Mazzetti. "About half have a job. Most people
have used up their opportunities to stay with family or friends."

Arthur is an alcoholic. "I had started drinking and had progressed up
to a point that I was disgusted with it. I [left Barre], went up to
rehab, and when I came out we headed down here" to Brattleboro.

Arthur and Cynthia finished the summer camping on National Forest land
in Stratton, while Arthur found work at a local mill. Now with some
money saved, Cynthia has been looking for housing. "I have applied to
15 places in the past two weeks," she said, "and I have got rejections
from every one.

"They ask me if we have Section 8, and we don't. They want first and
last months' rent and a security deposit, then they want a $100 credit
check on top of that. Even when you have enough money, you can't get a
place," Cynthia added.

Fighting the stigma

A. was walking down Route 5 in Brattleboro with a large black plastic
bag over his shoulder. "I'm not an alcoholic, but I like to drink," he
said. "I get up early every day and collect bottles and cans. On a
good day, I'll make enough to buy beer by 9:30 or so, and be able to
buy cigarettes by the end of the day. If there's anything left, I'll
get a soup cup or two. Homeless people live on cigarettes and, if they
drink, alcohol," he said.

A. has a court summons for violating a no trespass order at
Hannaford's supermarket in Brattleboro. "When they first trespassed me
off, they said it was because I was there with a known shoplifter. I
wasn't even accused of shoplifting. Stores do that because they don't
like the way you look. I'm going to fight this in court because I
shouldn't have been trespassed off in the first place."

Caren Epstein, a spokeswoman at Hannaford's corporate headquarters in
Scarsborough, ME, said the company only seeks a criminal trespass
warning against someone if they have done something for which they
could get arrested. Epstein said that according to the Brattleboro
Police Department, criminal trespass bans are for life. Bob Grover, a
Brattleboro police dispatcher, said that the ban can be lifted at any
time by the store that requested it.

Meanwhile, A. is finding it difficult to find places to shop. "I'm
getting trespassed out of stores and it's spreading like a plague," A.
said. "It's getting so I can't buy food anywhere except a couple of
convenience stores."

A. said that throughout last winter's bitter cold, he was outside for
all but a handful of nights. During a prolonged cold spell, he found
access to an enclosed area at the base of a Main Street building. He
usually waited until it was completely dark before entering, kept to a
little corner, carried out his trash, and did not use any of the space
as a toilet, he said.

But one night, he went in before dark and someone must have seen him.
An hour or so later, the building manager came down and ordered him
outside despite single-digit temperatures.

A. said he would like to avoid spending this winter outside, but he's
not sure how. Neither A. nor the three to four other people who share
his campsite make much use of the local services.

"At the shelter, they said you couldn't drink, so I turned around and
said, 'Thanks anyway.' The drop-in place is good for homeless people.
They have food and showers and help like that," he said.

According to Melinda Bussino, director of the Drop-In Center,
Brattleboro's shelter was full last winter until late March, for a
total of 834 bed-nights."Two years ago, we had a dozen people max
[living in the streets], now its 20-22," Bussino said.

Many experts think that virtually all homeless people have suffered
through severe trauma at some point in their lives, Bussino added.
That trauma can include domestic violence, child abuse, and serving in
a war. According to statistics, about one-third of chronically
homeless individuals are labeled mentally ill. Others often suffer
from alcohol or drug addiction, though experts are not sure if the
stress of being homeless fuels addictive behavior or is a symptom.

"If we have not walked down that road, we have not a clue what it
feels like," said Bussino. For the homeless, "high value is given to
having a choice and to our respecting their right to make their own

Michelle and P. are washing their clothes at the Drop-In Center. Clean
clothes improve their chances when applying for jobs. "Even though we
take a shower here every day, sometimes we still smell like wood
smoke," Michelle said. "It sort of marks us as homeless."

She added, "When you are homeless over a period of time, you start to
lose your self-esteem.Maybe that makes it even harder to come across
right when you're trying for a job."

Posted November 5, 2004


**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.**


-------End of forward-------

Morgan <morganbrown@gmail.com>
Morgan W. Brown
Montpelier Vermont USA
Norsehorse's Home Turf: