VHCB Grants CARES Act Funding to Secure Housing to Address Homelessness during the COVID-19  Emergency

VHCB Grants CARES Act Funding to Secure Housing to Address Homelessness during the COVID-19  Emergency

More than 200 New Homes and Improvements to Shelters Statewide to Keep Vulnerable Vermonters Safe and Stably Housed

On August 6, the Vermont Housing & Conservation Board committed more than $30 million in federal funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to secure and rehabilitate housing for homeless households in 18 communities around the state. New apartments and emergency beds will be created for 212 households statewide in areas of greatest need. Thirteen homeless shelters that together provide 251 beds will receive support for improvements such as no-touch faucets and soap dispensers, and automatic door openers that will reduce the risk of spreading coronavirus and enable compliance with current public health protocols. Upgrades to shelters include improved ventilation systems, room dividers, additions, or reconfiguration of interiors to facilitate social distancing.

Three existing motels and three other properties will be converted to create new housing and apartments that are vacant or in need of renovation will be reserved for homeless households.

The Champlain Housing Trust (CHT) and Steps to End Domestic Violence will establish a new shelter serving those escaping domestic and sexual violence in Chittenden County. CHT will renovate the former Handy’s Extended Stay Suites on Route 15 in Colchester, and lease it to Steps.

A major driver of homelessness is domestic violence – people fleeing their homes, with or without children, to flee abusive relationships. Typically, Steps to End Domestic Violence supports 35 households per night in the State-sponsored hotel system because the current Steps shelter can only house seven in a congregate setting. When the pandemic hit, that number was further reduced to three or four that could stay there safely. The new property will serve up to 21 households, with capacity for both individuals and families with children.

Nicole Kubon, MSW, Executive Director of Steps, said, “This new shelter will provide us the ability to maintain social distancing, enhance the services we are able to offer and bring the work of ending domestic violence more visibly into the community.”

With people sheltering at home since the Covid-19 pandemic, domestic violence has skyrocketed. The number of people served by Steps to End Domestic Violence increased from 40 in March, 2019 to 62 this March – an increase of more than 50%.

Partnerships between affordable housing developers, shelters, and social service agencies will facilitate transitions for households from temporary stays in motel rooms and shelters to more permanent housing. Support services and rental assistance will be provided working with the Agency of Human Services, social service providers, housing developers, and state and local housing authorities in a coordinated effort as a critical element of the State’s overall response to the housing needs of communities across Vermont.

Executive Director Gus Seelig said, “Coronavirus has cut a wide swath through our economy, exposing the vulnerability of households living from paycheck to paycheck. It has nearly doubled the number of homeless individuals in Vermont since January. These federal funds will create new housing and improve housing for residents that have been relying on the State’s motel voucher system over the past months, during a time when shelters were unable to safely house them. We are heartened by partnerships at the state and local levels to provide the complementary resources of housing, rental subsidies, and social services which are all needed to provide a foundation for success.”

In Bennington, Shires Housing will rehabilitate 15 vacant apartments at Applegate and expand their partnership with the Sunrise Family Resource Center to provide supportive services for families experiencing homelessness. “We’re excited to receive the CARES funding award and will use it to provide upgrades to vacant apartments in order to assist families who are especially vulnerable during this pandemic,” said Stephanie Lane, Executive Director of Shires Housing. “The Agency of Human Services has been housing 25 families in motels since June and it is estimated by the local Continuum of Care that over 100 families are located in motels currently.”

“With challenge comes opportunity, and the magnitude of this investment will go a long way toward improving and adding to Vermont’s inventory of housing solutions that help homeless households get back on their feet,” said Department for Children and Families  Commissioner, Sean Brown, at the Agency of Human Services. “These funds will allow us to effectively transform Vermont’s shelters to better provide safe and decent housing and to create new housing with support services for those who need it most.”

Elizabeth Ready, Director of the John Graham Shelter in Addison County, said, “We are grateful for this assistance that will allow for improvements to two shelters in Vergennes, improving ventilation, replacing flooring and kitchen counter tops, installing touchless faucets and soap dispensers, and adding two bathrooms to increase social distancing. Keeping our clients healthy is a priority during this pandemic.”

The Vermont Housing & Conservation Board supports the creation and preservation
of affordable housing and the conservation of agricultural and recreational land,
forestland, natural areas, and historic community buildings. Learn more: www.vhcb.org