Burlington, VT– Homelessness in Burlington is one of Mayor Miro Weinberger’s top concerns this summer as the city’s affordable housing shortage continues.
After a year of work and several delays, the ‘pod’ community on Elmwood Avenue is providing emergency shelter. But is it enough?
Weinberger says the project has so far “been a great success.”
Some shelter residents people have “stabilized their lives,” and found jobs, he said, and problems have been few and far between.
But the Mayor emphasized the pods are not the solution to the city’s housing crisis.
“We have an acute shortage of housing, and that has really worsened this long-standing challenge of the number of people unhoused in this community,” Weinberger says.
He notes that the warmer months typically bring more people to the streets. “We have seen some improvement, some drop in the numbers of what we call the chronically homeless population, so there’s some indication we are making progress on this issue,” notes Weinberger.
The Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity expects an uptick this summer in people using its center in the Old North End, at 228 North Winooski Ave.
“The Community Resource Center really serves as a gathering place for people experiencing homelessness,” says Paul Dragon, the executive director of CVOEO.
The Resource Center has a number of services, including serving hot meals, access to mental and physical health programs, phones and computers, housing advocates to help people find shelter, and a food pantry.
But Dragon says capacity is an issue, as the center sees more people than originally planned for, noting 160 people at the center on an April day. Dragon wishes there was more space at the location to comfortably serve its visitors, but he assures the center is there to stay.
Weinberger notes it’s hard to predict the number of people living outside this summer, given the end to pandemic-era assistance programs at the state level. Dragon says the state is discontinuing its hotel voucher program, which impacted 1,800 households.
“A good majority of them are going to be leaving that hotel program, and we assume some will be coming with no place else to go. So, it is worrisome that our space is already kind of at its limit,” says Dragon.
Weinberger touts his 10-point housing action plan, as he says ending homelessness is one of his goals.
“I do want people to know that we are putting a great effort into ensuring that downtown Burlington is, as it has been for decades, this welcoming, inclusive place where everyone feels a sense of belonging. It wasn’t always that last summer in 2022, and we want this year to be very different, and I would say this year in the early weeks of the spring that’s succeeding,” says Weinberger.
The Mayor adds that the City of Burlington is also working to reduce the need for emergency shelters as a whole.