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Homeless in a Housing Shortage

Colby Lynch speaks during the Jan. 11 Homelessness Task Force Meeting. Screen shot.
Colby Lynch, a self-described “able-bodied middle-aged woman,” says she seeks to bring attention to the issue of homelessness by telling her story. And it looks like she will get her chance. Lynch spoke to the Montpelier Homelessness Task Force on Jan. 11 about her first-hand experience of becoming unsheltered and she is also scheduled to speak along with Matthew Vernon Whalan at the Kellogg-Hubbard Library on Feb. 27.

“We have a lot of unhoused people in Washington county,” said Carolyn Ridpath, a member of the homelessness task force. “They’re going to be here a long time. These people are normal people in abnormal situations. My goal is to humanize them.”

It’s not that Lynch can’t pay for a place; she can. It’s that she can’t find a place.

During her Jan. 11 talk, Lynch told task force members that she had to leave a rented room in 2021 after being kicked out of her previous residence in Randolph. This led to her living in a van for three weeks with her partner, Tyler Vandenbergh (and their cat) that October. Then, in November 2021, they received a voucher and moved into the Quality Inn in Barre, according to written materials that she provided to the Homelessness Task Force.

It may seem like an unlikely story. Two people with two jobs and the ability to pay rent became homeless for over a year because of a lack of available housing? But it happened. According to Lynch, in spring 2021, she and Vandenbergh were renting a Randolph Center house for $1,600 per month. When the landlord decided to sell the house and verbally gave them three months to leave, Lynch was able to find room to rent for $600 per month and moved in May 2021. 

She soon discovered multiple health hazards in the new home. Lynch described how she was vocal about the malfunctioning stove, black mold/mildew, and space heaters to new tenants. She was then verbally asked to move out, supposedly so the landlord could use the room she and Vandenbergh had been renting. But the landlord replaced them with other tenants, Lynch wrote. 

After living in a van for two weeks, Lynch wrote a personal narrative titled “Currently Living in Our Van,” in which she described parts of this situation. In it she stated both she and her boyfriend had full-time jobs and could afford $900 per month in rent (as of 2021). But meanwhile she was applying for a voucher for emergency shelter through the state of Vermont’s application for general assistance through the Vermont Department for Children and Families.

Her first application failed as a result of the lack of a paper trail concerning the previous rental situations and subsequent evictions, she asserted, but then she got a voucher to stay at the Quality Inn in Barre. They signed the papers and got the keys to the door in November 2021. The moment was covered by VTDigger. But after 14 months of searching for a more permanent place, they are still there. And, since the program providing vouchers for people to live in motels on a temporary basis is winding down, it looks like they are going to have to move out of the Quality Inn. But it appears Lynch’s stint speaking with the Task Force may have led to a turnaround.

Shortly after Lynch read her essays at the Jan. 11 task force meeting, she was asked by Carolyn Ridpath to speak at an event on homelessness at the Kellogg-Hubbard Library. “The people of Montpelier need to know who lives here,” Ridpath said. Lynch was then asked by Daniel Towle to participate at another event as a homelessness spokesperson. Towle, is a consultant with Parker Advisors, which has a contract with the city of Montpelier to manage information from those who have either an interest in housing or a need to find a place to live. 

One task force member said he was impressed that Lynch holds down a job. “You bring the other side of the story away from the stigma of who a homeless person is. It could be anybody,” the unidentified speaker said on the recorded Zoom meeting. 

Toward the end of the meeting, she was asked what she needs and what is standing in her way. Lynch replied that she needs a studio or one-bedroom apartment. And just what is standing in the way? “Competition,” she replied. 

Her partner, Vandenbergh, calls and sends out emails but gets no response, she said. And maybe all it took was her persistence speaking out. Listening in on her story was also Ramsay Papp, the housing program manager at Capstone Community Action, a human services agency in Barre. Papp said she remembered Lynch from when Lynch was living in her van. Papp asked for Lynch’s email and then said she had a lead on an apartment and sent her the information. Papp invited Lynch to follow up after the meeting.

Lynch will be speaking at the Kellogg-Hubbard Library on Feb. 27 at 6:30 p.m. along with Matthew Vernon Whalan. The Bridge could not immediately contact Lynch by phone, email, or text message in time for this story.