By Evan Johnson
On a single night in January this year, 1,225 Vermonters were found to be literally homeless. The 2017 Point-in-Time Count Report, released Thursday, June 15, the Vermont Coalition to End Homelessness and the Chittenden County Homeless Alliance, showed an overall increase in homelessness by 11 percent compared to the 2016 Point-in-Time Count. While there was an overall statewide increase, there were striking regional differences.
In Rutland County, a total of 183 people were recorded as homeless at the Point-in-Time Count, 170 (92 percent) of whom were recorded as “sheltered.” That number represents a 32 percent increase (45 people) over 2016. In 2017, 43 of those people were the victims of domestic violence, 40 suffered from severe mental illness, 30 were experiencing problems with substance abuse and 17 were veterans.
2017 served as the baseline year for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to track progress toward ending youth homelessness. In Vermont, the number of homeless youth ages 18-24 who were homeless was 142, up from 120 in 2016. Half of these youth were in Rutland, Washington and Chittenden counties. Forty-two of them reported chronic health conditions: four had a physical disability, 18 a severe mental illness and five an “other chronic health condition.”
“The work of local communities, with the help of local, state and federal investments, is needed now more than ever,” MaryEllen Mendl, co-chair of the Vermont Coalition to End Homelessness said in a statement. “The Trump budget would cut off affordable housing assistance to an estimated 750 Vermont families, putting them at risk of eviction and homelessness. It also eliminates numerous key programs that fund the creation of new affordable homes, like Community Development Block Grants, HOME and the National Housing Trust Fund.”
The report comes from data collected for the annual point-in-time count, an unduplicated count of persons experiencing literal homelessness on the night of Jan. 24, 2017. The count was organized by Vermont’s two federally-recognized Continuum of Care programs (CoC): the Chittenden County CoC and the 11 local coalitions that make up the Balance of State CoC. These networks are comprised of homeless and human service organizations, housing agencies, government agencies, health care providers, private funders, and other partners that strive to eliminate homelessness in Vermont.
Additional point-in-time count findings:
134 people were unsheltered, a 14 percent decrease from last year.
Just under half of the people (47 percent) were homeless for the first time.
267 persons (22 percent) self-reported as survivors of domestic violence, a 40-person increase from 2016.
Due to coordinated statewide efforts, the population of homeless veterans has steadily declined since the 2013 Count. 2017 saw a continuation of this downward trend with 94 veterans counted, a 15 percent decrease compared to last year.
340 people (28 percent) reported having a severe mental illness.
228 people (19 percent) reported having a substance abuse disorder.
The point-in-time count findings come on the heels of the release of the Out of Reach Report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition and the Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition, which reported that Vermont’s average fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment is $1,139. In order to afford this — without paying more than 30 percent of income on rent and utilities — a household must earn $45,545 annually, translating to a $21.90 hourly wage.
This is unaffordable for a large percentage of Vermonters. The report found that Vermont has the fifth largest affordability gap for renters of any state in the nation. High rents, coupled with vacancy rates as low as 1 percent, continue to be barriers to finding and retaining housing.