Homeless shelters brace for difficult winter

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(Host) Vermont’s homeless shelters worry that they’ll be confronted by demand this winter that they might not be able to meet.

Many are already at or near capacity, so they’ve started to raise money that would pay for overflow space when the weather turns cold.

VPR’s Ross Sneyd reports.

(Sneyd) Linda Ryan isn’t looking forward to this winter.

She knows there’s going to be a lot of demand at the Samaritan House homeless shelter in St. Albans, where she’s director.

(Ryan) “I am frightened about what could happen. We were lucky last year. I don’t believe anyone froze to death. I am very concerned, as many of my colleagues are in Franklin and Grand Isle counties, about this upcoming winter.”

(Sneyd) Here’s the problem. Samaritan House already houses 13 people and has five families on a waiting list. When temperatures fall, Ryan says, she’ll have even more clients looking for help.

(Ryan) “It’s really going to get a lot worse – the fuel, the way the economy is going right now and the cost of food. It’s unbelievable. … I don’t think we’re going to be able to meet all the needs. The community is going to have to come together with this because it’s going to be beyond everybody’s means.”

(Sneyd) That’s not the case just in Franklin and Grand Isle counties, which Samaritan House serves.

Burlington’s Committee on Temporary Shelter sent letters to supporters last month. It’s trying to raise money so it can lease space for an overflow shelter for the winter.

And in Vergennes, the John Graham Emergency Shelter bought an apartment building for “transitional housing.”

The goal is that families who can afford to pay something toward their housing will move out of the shelter and into the apartments. They’d pay part of their expenses as they continue to save for permanent housing.

Director Elizabeth Ready says that right now her clients can’t even afford the meager costs of the transitional apartments.

(Ready) “The shelter is basically sometimes facing some of the same issues that families face. We have to figure out how to pay the utilities, how to heat the units, how to make the mortgages. And what we had hoped is that people would have some income. And what we’re finding is people just have none or very, very little.”

(Sneyd) Ready’s committed to filling the apartments. She’s approached the United Way for more money. So has Samaritan House in St. Albans.

The problem is that other agencies also need United Way’s help.

So, Ready has asked churches in Addison County for money – or even for space where she could house people in an emergency.

In Franklin and Grand Isle counties a “food council” has been established.

Linda Ryan of Samaritan House says she’s asked the public to make an extra donation this fall.

And to people who need services, she’s also got a simple message: Don’t be afraid to ask for help before you fall too far behind.

For VPR News, I’m Ross Sneyd.

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