The following article is an edited version of a paid advertorial that appears in the April 28 printed issue of The Bridge:
The Montpelier Homelessness Task Force has been working hard to bring health and cohesion to our community through engaged efforts at problem solving amongst a remarkable network of mutual care. This network involves downtown merchants, city leaders, service providers, members of faith communities, dedicated volunteers and of course, those experiencing homelessness. What is remarkable is how many folks, in different stations of life, and of society band together in a spirit of compassion and level-headedness to address bringing our community closer to a one in which no one will be sleeping outside unless they choose to.
The people in your neighborhood . . .
Folks who end up outside are often in life-crisis and struggling with day-to-day survival. Some are plagued by demons of addiction, some by circumstance. There is no caricature that does justice to the human experience of these individuals. These are individuals, with life stories. When one takes the time to engage with another, one can learn a great deal about the world, about the experiences of another, and about oneself.
Some assume that folks are homeless because of moral failings, or bad habits. The truth is usually far more complicated. Even folks who may be making lifestyle choices that others would frown upon may be doing so out of inner turmoil or unaddressed childhood trauma. Varied circumstances lead folks to these predicaments and scores of reasons why someone loses housing or stumbles on life’s path.
The reality of homelessness involves economics, real estate, emotional and physical health, and importantly, our commitment, or lack thereof, to cohesiveness as a society. As we seek to tackle these challenges, we must understand the plight of those currently struggling to stay afloat.
From those experiencing homelessness we hear deep frustration, fatigue, and plaintive cries of, “Where’s the housing,” “Why can’t I get out of this situation.” The pain is real. The frustration is real.
In the face of that, we can feel helpless, but there are things we can do.
One response is simple kindness. We appreciate the attempts of people in our community to reach across real and perceived barriers to honor our common humanity, to offer encouragement, to bear witness, and to offer kindness. When we make a point of slowing down to talk to folks we encounter on the street, to lend an ear, to share a cup of coffee, it can make a great difference.
Other ways to help
- The biggest help would be to open your home to someone who is currently living outside. Maybe you have an accessory structure that can be turned into a livable unit. You could consider hosting a tiny house on your property.
- Donate survival equipment such as tents, winter clothing, hand warms and food directly to those experiencing homelessness.
- Offer transportation or ride vouchers.
- The Montpelier Homelessness Task Force has an incidentals fund for the provision of survival needs for folks living outdoors. Contact Assistant City Manager Cameron Neidermeyer at cniedermayer@Montpelier-vt.org to make a donation.
- Volunteer with a local faith organization to serve food to the homeless.
- Come to a Homelessness Task Force meeting. These are held every other Wednesday from 11:30-1 by Zoom. The next meeting will be May 12. See the City Website for more information: https://www.montpelier-vt.org/1105/Homelessness-Task-Force
- Write to your local paper or on social media about the need for robust responses to homelessness.
We need help problem-solving about the lack of affordable housing. Innovation, grit, and determination are needed to find ways to ensure our built environment is one that provides shelter for all in need.
The current motel housing program will not last indefinitely and is dependent on FEMA reimbursement during the COVID state of emergency. It is also a less than ideal solution. Many folks are rolling up their sleeves on these challenges, but these are Herculean tasks requiring systemic change. Establishing Accessory Dwelling Units is a possible approach, along with capital investment to convert structures capable of housing more people.
Task Force Vision and Mission
The Montpelier Homelessness Task Force believes that everyone, regardless of their current housing status, is entitled to safe, high-quality, accessible housing that provides a reasonable expectation of health and happiness.
Our mission is to identify and understand the needs of individuals who are experiencing homelessness in Montpelier and the surrounding areas and make recommendations to the municipality and its partners to address those unmet needs.
The Montpelier Homelessness Task Force is charged to provide the City Council with:
- Creative, collaboratively developed short-term ideas and/or solutions to improve conditions for the people who are homeless.
- Policy recommendations and concrete ideas for longer-term, structural and systems improvements to guide the City, along with a preliminary budget and a timeline for implementation.
Successes in the Past Year
- Acted as a clearinghouse of information between agencies, non-profits, the faith community, city government, business owners, citizens, and those struggling with homelessness and associated challenges.
- Raised awareness of the issue of homelessness in our community and advocated for humane responses to the challenge.
- Made great strides in coordinating access to food; helped ensure food is available to those in need seven days a week.
- Created a fundraising program and related policy to support the Peer Support Worker, MPD, or MPD/Barre Social Worker to purchase incidentals and needed items for those experiencing homelessness.
- Partnered with Good Samaritan, Vermont Center for Independent Living, and Disability Rights Vermont, to get smartphones to folks experiencing homelessness in order to assist them in accessing services
Ongoing Efforts and Objectives
- Creating a more efficient system to provide emergency housing referrals.
- Continue to track conditions in local motels and prepare for changes in state support for the population currently housed there.
- Prepare for the potential return of significant numbers of folks to our streets.
- Evaluation of the Winter Shelter System and winter-season shelter model in our community
- Ensuring that service gaps are identified by participating in planning efforts for any shelter expansions.
- Continue to partner with stakeholders to make additional affordable housing available to those experiencing homelessness; continue to advocate for housing initiatives.
- Continue to work with community organizations in tracking related legislative bills, etc.
- Follow emergency and housing services (General Assistance) funding closely and update the City Council as necessary.
- Continue to advocate for publicly available restrooms, lockers, and other facilities.
- Identify gaps in the system and communicate with agencies serving the homeless.
- Last, but not least: Advocate for more affordable housing.
Finally, we express our gratitude for this wonderful supportive community that takes these issues seriously and for the City Government that supports our work. A special thanks goes out to an incredibly generous, anonymous donor who paid for this page and invited us to share our perspective.
Ken Russell, Chair
Cameron Neidermeyer, Staff Support