By Alan J. Keays, VTDigger
A city panel has strongly backed a local organization’s bid to seek state funding for a family homeless shelter in Rutland.
The Board of Aldermen’s Community and Economic Development Committee at a recent meeting unanimously approved a request from the Homeless Prevention Center in Rutland to allow Mayor David Allaire to sign a letter of support backing the proposal.
The Rev. John M. Longworth of the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Rutland told the committee that more children in the area are homeless.
“We certainly encounter enough children’s bedding, small backpacks, toys, and other items at outdoor campsites to let us know, on this very night there are probably children camping out outside,” Longworth said.
The homeless coalition needed the letter of community support as it seeks a state grant to help pay for a bulk of the roughly $450,000 project, with funding also expected to come from other sources, including local fundraising.
The full Board of Aldermen is expected at a meeting Monday night, May 1, to give final approval for the mayor to sign that letter of support. Deborah Hall, executive director of the Homeless Prevention Center, said the organization is not seeking any funding from the city, just the show of support.
Alderman Ed Larson, a committee member, said he would like the Board of Aldermen to pass a proclamation at its meeting Monday night voicing support of the proposal in addition to the letter from the mayor endorsing the project.
“You refer to your clients as guests, which destigmatizes homelessness,” Larson told project backers at the committee meeting last week. “I think that is a very, very important factor. That certainly sold me on the idea.”
Larson shared with the committee and project organizers his own experience with homelessness.
“I grew up as a transient gypsy pretty much with my family, I didn’t have a home. Many of you were able to go to school and you’ve got lifelong friends,” he said. “I didn’t have that benefit as a kid so I know what that sense is like, not to have something to hold onto.”
The family homeless shelter, according to the proposal, would serve up to 10 families and be located in the former Red Cross building off Strongs Avenue and near the entrance to Howe Center in Rutland, just outside the city’s downtown.
Currently, Hall said, homeless families receive state vouchers and are put up at local hotels. By having a shelter in the city dedicated to families, those staying at the facility will have access on site to services and support to help them find available and affordable housing in the community.
“Community resources would come directly to the shelter and work with families at the shelter,” Hall told the committee members.
The Homeless Prevention Center would lease the roughly 8,500-square-foot building, which would be put on the tax rolls.
The shelter would provide individual families their own sleeping spaces but shared common areas, such as kitchen, living and bathroom spaces.
Organizers of the project told the committee of the rising number of families staying in hotels, with many children heading off to school each day from hotel rooms in the city,
Hall said she hoped to get at least part of the family shelter up and running by September, the start of the next school year. The shelter could also open in phases, with building renovations taking place to allow for some families to move in before all the work is complete.
The shelter is expected to provide short-term stays for families as they look to secure permanent housing, Hall added.
“Families are very much going to be part of the chores and maintaining a safe environment,” Hall told the committee. ‘We’ll also be working on a housing plan with families. We want to make sure that we’re addressing any issues and uncover root causes of homelessness, what has contributed to their state of homelessness.”
Allaire said he met with Hall and other project supporters to get briefed on the proposal.
“I will say that I had a lot of questions,” the mayor told the committee. “I wanted to make sure there would be proper staffing, it was located in the right place, there were going to be wraparound services.”
Allaire said he came away with positive responses to his concerns.
“I can support this. I will support this,” the mayor told the project organizers at the committee meeting. “I hope you’re successful. We’ll do what we can on our end to help.”