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Burlington temporary shelter saw high turnout during February cold snap

A brick building with glass doors.
Skyeler Devlin
Vermont Public
The entrance to the New North End’s Robert Miller Community and Recreation Center as pictured on Feb. 27, 2023.

About 60 people used an emergency cold weather shelter at Burlington's Robert Miller Community and Recreation Center during the extreme cold snap in early February.

Anyone 18 or older could stay, and the shelter offered resources to support those with substance use or mental health challenges.

Sarah Russell, special assistant to end homelessness for the city of Burlington, said the turnout at the shelter in the New North End was higher than usual and could indicate a future need for more capacity.

“In years past the largest number of people who have accessed extreme cold weather shelter has been in the 12 to 15 range, but knowing and seeing what we saw, knowing what we know now, where one night we had almost 50 individuals show up, it's really going to need to be a physical space that has the capacity to be able to support that many individuals at one time," she said.

Russell said the February cold snap was the first time the city took the lead in setting up an extreme cold weather shelter for homeless individuals. In past cases of extreme cold weather, nonprofits such as the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity as well as local churches have taken the lead in setting up a shelter for homeless individuals in the area, but were unable to house people during this event.

Russell said the city "utilized some really innovative outreach efforts" to spread the word. Those outreach efforts included social media, flyers and working with outreach workers and could have been a reason the shelter saw such high usage.

This story is a collaboration between Vermont Public and the Community News Service. The Community News Service is a student-powered partnership between the University of Vermont’s Reporting & Documentary Storytelling program and community newspapers across Vermont.

Skyeler Devlin is a senior at the University of Vermont majoring in sociology.
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