Stimulus Money Helping Homeless Find Housing

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(Host) Cold weather and the poor economy have swelled the ranks of people needing emergency housing. Homeless shelters in the state say their facilities are filled to capacity this winter.

But there is also some good news. Federal stimulus money is helping some of the homeless find housing.

VPR’s John Dillon has this report:

(Dillon) Like most people who are just six months old, Chloe Kenyon is more interested in the colorful wrapping paper than the squeeze toy inside.

(What’s that? What is that Chloe?)

(Dillon) This will be Chloe’s first Christmas. And it’s also the first time her entire family has a home in Vermont. Her mother, Gloria Kenyon, says the family was homeless when she, her husband and the baby moved back to Vermont from New York City.

(Kenyon) "Our first goal was to get her into a place before Christmas. And spend it as a family for Christmas in our own place. She was more important than anything. So, we got it, and very happy. She’s happy about it."

(Dillon) The Kenyons got help in their housing search from the John Graham homeless shelter in Vergennes, where they had stayed last summer.

The shelter is using federal stimulus money to help people pay the first and last month’s rent – money that landlords often demand up front.

And federal money also helps pay for caseworker Clara Carroll. She’s an AmeriCorp worker whose work with the homeless is administered by the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board. Carroll has made it her mission to get a roof over people’s heads. She works directly with landlords to place people in apartments.

(Carroll) "What I’ve found is that it’s just helpful in a situation where somebody feels like they’re taking on a risk to have somebody else involved, some sort of third party, to be a resource and support that person who they see as needing that support."

(Dillon) In October and November, caseworkers at the John Graham shelter worked with 79 homeless people, and helped place 65 in housing.

Elizabeth Ready is the shelter’s executive director. She says the federal money has allowed her organization to work with other groups in Addison County and provide more than temporary housing.

(Ready) "Clara has been going to people that are staying in campers, in the backwoods, on back roads, in the snow, and literally strapping down all that they own in her little pickup and moving them into an apartment and coming with the check. So it’s very different than simply being able to provide shelter."

(Dillon) Pat Lynch wasn’t camping in the woods when the caseworker called.

(Lynch) "I was homeless, what three Christmases. This would have been my fourth Christmas."

(Dillon) Last summer, Lynch had moved out of the Vergennes shelter and was staying at a motel in the Burlington area when Carroll tracked her down.

(Lynch) "And if it wasn’t for Clara, I don’t what would have happened, because I was ready to give up at that point. I was waiting for a Section 8 voucher to come through, and it didn’t come through, and nobody seemed to know anything about it."

(Dillon) Section 8 refers to a federal housing subsidy. Lynch said the caseworker helped straighten out the issue, and got her into transitional housing in Vergennes.

Lynch is 70 years old, and she says life at the shelter was hard. But she considers herself lucky these days. She has a small income from Social Security to help pay rent – and now she has a roof over her head.

(Lynch) "And it was so hard to see people who are just living on just practically nothing. About all they have is food stamps and what they call general assistance, which is $57 a month or something. They need help. I mean it’s right here in our own country. It’s not over halfway around the world. It’s right here."

(Dillon) Elizabeth Ready says that while the shelter has been able to place people into apartments, many more are still homeless, with no money and few choices.

(Ready) "Most of the people that we’re helping are families with children or people that have Social Security or SSI and are able – once they get a voucher – they’re able to make the payments. But we have a lot of people right now in the shelter who have absolutely no income. None. And that’s a real problem."

(Dillon) Ready says she and other shelter directors have asked the Legislature to put more money in the general assistance program to help those families most in need.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Vergennes.

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