Burlington, Vt. - With the coldest temperatures Vermont has seen in 8 months on the way, there are a handful of options out there for people looking for help starting Thursday night. Burlington alone has 5 shelters.
To put things into perspective, the human body normally sits at 98.6 degrees. Hypothermia can set in after just a drop of 3 degrees in your core body temperature. A scary thought for those who may be without a roof.
As cold weather makes its way to the Green Mountain State, emergency and warming shelters gear up. "We've definitely started to see an upswing. As we see the temperatures drop, we start to see an increase," said Becky Holt. She is with the Committee on Temporary Shelter (COTS). The organization has been around since 1982 and aims to provide shelter, housing, and prevention programs to Vermonters. The organization can house 50 to 80 people each night. "The difference between Vermont and say California, which also has a homeless crisis is the weather. Here if people are outside in the winter time, they'll freeze to death, " she said.
Holt says Vermont has made some headway when it comes to homelessness. It's why continuing team work is vital this time of year. "As a whole we all succeed, but without that collaboration, we wouldn't succeed," stated Sarah Lee, Contact Center Manager for Vermont 2-1-1. The statewide information and referral service helps put Vermonters in touch with the agencies they need. This time of year their call volume increases. "Winter impacts folks who have limited budgets and aren't able to heat their homes. They have to take money they'd normally spend on medication, on food, on childcare, and pay to heat their homes," said Lee.
For others, those calls are for shelter. "Holiday resources, Thanksgiving and Christmas, heating assistance, and temporary housing," added Lee, explaining their three most popular resource calls during the winter. Their calls for shelter have increased from fewer than 400 in September, to nearly 600 in November. In fact Thursday has been classified as a "Cold Weather Exception" in Vermont. It means criteria for temporary housing is relaxed and 2-1-1 can send even more people to shelters.
The two say while Vermont is heading in the right direction, more needs to be done. "I haven't seen the need significantly decrease in the 6 years I've been with COTS, but I've seen the resources fluctuate. The more resources we have, and our community partners have, the more we can do," said Holt.
The two urge those who need help, or those who know of other in need of help, to reach out. All it takes is a phone call, or a stop at one of their locations. They say when it comes to dropping temperatures, it could be a matter of life or death.
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