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Shelter Plus Care: Addressing Homelessness In Rural Vermont

A walkway leading to a yellow house.
Amy Kolb Noyes
The Lamoille Community House, locally referred to as "the yellow house," is a seasonal shelter in Lamoille County. Community partners are working with people experiencing homelessness to figure out where they can go after leaving hotels and motels.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 1,000 people experiencing homelessness in Vermont have been housed in hotels and motels around the state to avoid spreading illness in shelters. Now, after a few months, the state is looking to transition those individuals elsewhere.Next week, the Scott administration plans to announce a $20 million proposal for homelessness initiatives over the next two years. But in the nearer term, what will the transition out of hotels look like on the ground?

VPR's Henry Epp's interview with Sherry Marcelino, who runs the Shelter Plus Careprogram at Lamoille County Mental Health, is below. It has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Henry Epp: For the area that you work in, Lamoille County, how has the transition to housing people in hotels gone over these past few months?

Sherry Marcelino: Well, in the very beginning, when the stay-at-home order was first put in place, every county in Vermont was asked to put together what was called a homelessness task force. And we initiated that pretty quickly.

And then as the state transitioned to using the GA system, the "general assistance" system, and partnering with more hotels around the state, we eventually relocated the Lamoille Community House staff to one of our area hotels in order to better support all of the guests and help them get connected with service providers as soon as possible.

In Lamoille County, we have three hotels. We only have staff at one, but between our local partners and tele-med or Zoom meetings or however that needs to look, we're able to get connected with the majority of the folks that are living in the hotels right now.

More from VPR: Homeless Shelters Scramble For Capacity As COVID-19 Spreads

So you have been able to transition to providing services that people need while living in this different setting?

Absolutely. Capstone Community Action was gracious enough to donate a laptop to one of the hotels so that folks could get connected with appointments. It's actually a mandate right now that everybody that's in the hotel do an assessment called "coordinated entry," which basically is an assessment tool that collects data on how long people have been homeless, if they have a disability, what age they are, what their barriers may be to finding housing.

And after that assessment is done, it sort of puts you in a ranking, or a category, to help identify the system where we can best support you. Our next step is to identify a lead provider for every household that's in hotel right now.

So Lamoille's goal is by the end of this week, we will have that lead identified for everyone.

Okay, so everyone will have a point person that they are working with to find new housing when they are no longer able to be in a hotel?


It sounds like there are a lot of supports in place for people who are in hotels right now. But where specifically will those individuals go? What kinds of settings are we talking about?

I think the overwhelming majority of them will want to locate a sustainable, permanent apartment. One of the barriers to that is there just isn't enough of them around here.

Does that mean some folks are going back to tents and campers?

Absolutely. Unfortunately. And I will say that some people may choose to do that regardless. Some people aren't ready to face the barriers that they have in order to maintain an apartment. The overwhelming majority of folks will want to obtain permanent housing. And we may have to cast a web out of county to help folks and, you know, try to make a plan that's gonna work for them.

Part of the work that I do is working with landlords. And I am also a housing sponsor, which means people that are coming, looking for affordable housing — that are coming with poor credit or bad landlord references — I can sort of act on behalf of them, telling a landlord that I'm here to support them, whether it be financially or providing services to help them manage their budget better, find employment, manage their mental health. Whatever the barrier is to get them into housing.

More from VPR: Nonprofits Collaborate With State To Help Homeless Population During Pandemic

We are now officially in a recession in the United States. The unemployment rate is quite high in Vermont. Do you expect to see a rising number of people experiencing homelessness, particularly in your area, in the coming months?

I do. Right now, there's a moratorium on evictions. Basically, that moratorium also has language in it and supports around if people got behind in rent due to COVID related reasons — they lost their job, lost income, were sick and unable to pay their rent, whatever that might look like. And I know the state is hopeful that they can work with landlords and tenants in those circumstances.

But I worry more about the people that were able to get by financially, but were ignoring other barriers that can cause them to be a poor tenant, which could be mental health. It could be substance abuse. There's quite [an] array of barriers that people struggle with, and eventually we're going to have to face those.

Amy is an award winning journalist who has worked in print and radio in Vermont since 1991. Her first job in professional radio was at WVMX in Stowe, where she worked as News Director and co-host of The Morning Show. She was a VPR contributor from 2006 to 2020.
Henry worked for Vermont Public as a reporter from 2017 to 2023.
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