An innovative effort to fight homelessness has been in development in Burlington’s Old North End for most of 2022. That effort on Elmwood Avenue will continue to be developed into 2023.
The emergency shelter pod community was originally planned to open in July. The opening has been pushed back several times, with the most recent delay coming to light at Monday’s Burlington City Council meeting.
Of the 30 emergency shelter pods to be located in a former parking lot, 25 are now on-site and ready for use. Brian Pine, director of Burlington’s Community and Economic Development Office, says that the absence of the five remaining pods is not holding the project up.
“Without the bathrooms and the building that is essentially a service center for residents, it’s not going to succeed,” he said. “We need this to succeed; we need this to work well for good outcomes for the residents as well as for the neighborhood.”
In addition to the 30 pods, two modular buildings will house communal bathrooms, showers and laundry areas. They’ll also include kitchen space for the residents and work spaces that people supervising the community will use. Some of those supervisors haven’t been hired yet.
“I believe four positions have been filled with people that have accepted the jobs, and there’s two more that are in the final stages of that process,” Pine said. “We will find some way to keep them busy if the shelter isn’t actually open; there’s going to be other tasks that are going to be needed.”
All seven remaining buildings should arrive in the Queen City at or shortly before Christmastime. The two modular buildings will need several weeks of preparation work before they can be used, which means that they — and the community as a whole — can’t open until early January.
“I honestly would have been surprised if this was able to open up on time,” Ward 5 Democratic City Councilor Ben Traverse said. “I’m impressed with the work that’s been done thus far.”
Traverse said the innovative nature of the emergency shelter pod community is one of the reasons he would have been surprised. He added that the effects of COVID-19 on supply chains and the labor market also contribute to his opinion.
“I don’t care what industry you’re in right now; it’s difficult to come by qualified staff,” Traverse said. “Champlain Housing Trust is stepping into an area that it has not historically worked in.”
The Champlain Housing Trust will manage the emergency shelter pod community. Its executive director, Michael Monte, wasn’t available for an interview Wednesday evening on short notice.