The flooding that devastated much of central Vermont this summer didn’t only leave people without places to live. According to the Montpelier Homelessness Task Force, the flood waters have also made it tougher for Vermonters who already needed shelter to find it.
Meredith Warner works in Barre at Good Samaritan Haven. It offers emergency shelter, food and street outreach to people experiencing homelessness.
“Our street outreach team has seen an increase in the last few years, but particularly post-flood, and is serving about 80 individuals throughout the area,” she said.
In her capacity as a member of the Montpelier Homelessness Task Force, she briefed the City Council Wednesday night. The task force has formed an overview of the post-flooding situation for people experiencing homelessness, looking both at those who’ve secured temporary shelter and at those without.
“The flood, in particular, has caused a lot of hard times for folks to find good places to camp safely,” Warner said. “And so, the (Good Samaritan Haven) outreach team spends a lot of their time supporting people to find places that are safe.”
Warner pointed out several developing trends. She said that, on average, people experiencing homelessness in and near Montpelier are getting older, are experiencing more complicated health problems and are also more numerous.
“In 2020, we had 260 people who were utilizing area shelters, motels or living outside,” she said. “In January 2023, that number was 446.”
The annual point-in-time census of Vermonters experiencing homelessness takes place each January. Warner said the current figure is likely higher than 446 because the most recent count took place six months before the flooding.
Montpelier District 1 City Councilor Lauren Hierl asked Warner, “Is it already clear, like some peer support outreach staffing or other things that we should be sure to include in our asks of the state as we try to fund resources to support people?”
“I would be happy to pass that along as soon as we develop that list,” Warner replied.
This coming Monday, November 13, Good Samaritan Haven is opening a low-barrier winter shelter at the former Montpelier Elks Country Club. The city bought the property last year. It’s the same site where some FEMA emergency shelter trailers — for people displaced by flooding — will be located for at least the next year and a half. The winter shelter will offer 15 beds each night, through the end of April.
Another Way, the peer-run alternative mental health service provider in Montpelier, will be open as a day space through the winter months from 8:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. daily. It’ll also serve evening meals with help from area faith communities.