[Hpn] Vermonts Homeless Shelters Are Full,Worried About Winter

William Charles Tinker wtinker@metrocast.net
Mon, 25 Jul 2005 08:15:09 -0400

In 1989 I stayed in the Good Samaritan Shelter in Barre,Vermont 1 night.

The shelter staff people were very helpful including taking me to my last 
job at Smugglers Notch Ski Area to pick up my last paycheck,and taking me to 
bus station so I could come back to Concord, NH.

In The Struggle

Vermont's homeless shelters are full, worried about winter

July 25, 2005

By Brent Curtis Rutland Herald

Managers of Vermont's homeless shelters are struggling to explain unusually
high demand this summer, worried it may foretell a long, difficult winter.

At Good Samaritan shelter in Barre, three tents pitched in the backyard
evidence the kind of space crunch being felt around the state. Director Paul
Mascitti said historically, summers have been the slow season for the
19-year-old organization. Beginning last year, however, overnight stays
during summer months spiked dramatically.

"It used to be every summer we usually have a break. Some nights only one or
two people were here," Mascitti said. "That changed last year," he said, and
now the shelter is more than full.

Mascitti attributes the increased demand to limited services for the
homeless in Washington County. Good Samaritan, with its 20 beds, is the only
homeless shelter in Barre and Montpelier.

"Easily three-quarters of our population comes directly from Washington
County," Mascitti said. "And most of them are from Barre."

At the Open Door Mission in Rutland, executive director Sharon Russell said
her 40-bed shelter has been full for more than a month.

"We usually see more movement and people camping when it's warmer, but not
this year," Russell said. "We've been taking in more vets, people with
disabilities and the elderly. We're seeing a lot more people with
disabilities, the mentally ill and other people who are medically

Russell, and Donna Baccei, the Mission's associate director, said part of
the Mission's summertime surge could be due to the 17 veterans staying at
the Mission who receive care from the VA hospital in White River Junction.

"A lot of veterans say that down south there are waiting lines at VA
hospitals and they have a really good (post-traumatic stress disorder)
program here," Baccei said. "With homeless people, they pass it on that
there's a good VA here."

If that's the case, not all vets are saying so.

Alfred Duruchie, 58, and Dalton Sellinger, 57, are two Vietnam veterans who
came to Vermont from California recently. The pair are staying at the
Mission and receiving care at the VA.

But while they said the veterans' services in Vermont are generally superior
to those in California, neither said they came to the Green Mountain State
in search of better health care.

"I was on my way to Massachusetts to do some backpacking," Sellinger said.
"But Greyhound lost my luggage so I'm just hanging loose here for awhile."

Robert Griswold, 61, another veteran at the Mission, has been staying and
working at the shelter for more than five years. He said the health care
he's received from the VA for his bypass surgery has been good.

But the native Vermonter said he hasn't heard from any of the veterans that
have come and gone from the Mission that their reasons for coming to the
state were to take advantage of the VA services.

Of course, not everyone staying at the Mission is a veteran.

Randy Barber, 40, said he has stayed at the Mission off and on over the
years. Most of the new-comers he's seen this summer were just passing
through, he said. What landed many of the newcomers on the street is related
to housing, he said.

"Rents are high, is all you get from most of them," he said. "Jobs around
here don't pay enough for rent on a one-bedroom apartment."

Burlington's Committee on Temporary Shelter, which runs a 36-bed waystation,
hasn't had any room for the last six weeks, said Executive Directory Rita

"We've been full," she said. "It's not usually like this. Last year, we only
had about 18 to 22 people a night over the same six weeks."

Summer is usually the season when temporary shelters get a breather as many
homeless people seek out campgrounds and other outdoor areas during the
warmer months, both Russell and Markley said.

Families are the exception to that rule, Markley said. More families are apt
to find themselves in need of shelter during the summer, when children are
out of school and evictions are easier to accomplish than during the winter.

But Markley said it isn't families filling the beds at her shelter.

"It's a different demographic," she said. "It's prompted us to do a review
of our records to see what is driving the increased need."

What's stood out this summer is the rise in the numbers of women who are
homeless, said Markley.

She has also noticed the Burlington shelter is seeing people laid off as
full-time employees only to be rehired later as contract employees without
medical and other benefits.

A shortage of affordable housing has been a long-term problem in Chittenden
County as well, she said.

"We've got a lot more to look at," she said. "We'll be reviewing everything
to look at patterns in housing income, evictions, age, sex, disabilities,
you name it."

In contrast to Markley's take on summer homeless trends, Richard McInerney,
director of the Morningside Shelter in Brattleboro, said the summer months
are always busy for his organization.

"We're booked but we're always this way in the summer," he said. "It's
busier than the winter for us."

That said, McInerney said the demand this summer is more than his 21-bed
shelter can handle.

"This year is abnormal," he said. "We've been turning people away and we've
been getting lots of calls from other states. We're turning away about seven
to eight people a day."

Like everyone else, McInerney could only speculate as to the reasons for
surge in shelter demand.

"I suspect it's overflow from Massachusetts," he said. "I think the intense
heat might be driving people out of the campgrounds here, too."

McInerney said it's been a buggier summer than usual in Brattleboro, leading
him to believe that at least some of the people in his shelter also don't
want to deal with being eaten alive in the woods.

Tony Morgan, chief administrator for the state Office of Economic
Opportunity, which oversees and works with the state's shelters, said it is
hard to get a handle on what drives increased demand in the short-term.

"It could have been something that happened 60 or 90 days ago," he said.
"It's hard to tell at this point."

A potential factor that did come to mind, Morgan said, are statistics that
show people have been staying longer at shelters than they have in years

In 2000, the average stay at shelters in Vermont was 12 days. Last year, the
average was 26 days.

"The longer people stay, the less room there is for others," Morgan said.

If the number of people in need of help diminishes over the rest of the
summer, the spike in demand will probably just be an interesting blip on the

But if demand continues into the fall, shelter officials said it could mean
a long, hard winter ahead.

"We won't be able to open up enough beds if it stays this way into the
winter," McInerney said.

Contact Brent Curtis at brent.curtis@rutlandherald.com.

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