Montpelier trying to help the homeless get out of the cold early

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Now that winter weather isn’t all that far away anymore, the city of Montpelier is trying to get ready for it by helping the homeless population get out of the cold earlier than usual.

Barre’s Good Samaritan Haven homeless shelter gets state funding to run an overflow shelter in downtown Montpelier every winter. It’s inside Bethany United Church of Christ, just up Main Street from City Hall.

The state funding keeps the overflow shelter open from November 15th to April 15th, but Montpelier’s Homelessness Task Force is pushing for it to open as quickly as possible.

“Think about your fellow person out there and what they’re going through when it’s getting cold at night outside,” task force member Ken Russell said. “We had a frost warning last night. Imagine trying to sleep in your car, if you have a car.”

It could cost as much as $10,000 to open the shelter early, and the task force understands that. However, city staff have apparently given the group some good news.

“Bill Fraser, the city manager, sent out an email saying he’s found $10,000 to go towards this,” Russell said. “It seemed like council was unanimous in terms of the spirit of all this. There’s great urgency in the community.”

The City Council still needs to vote to spend the $10,000 on the shelter. The task force plans to have that potential funding on the agenda for the council’s next meeting on October 9th.

“They have our proposal in writing,” Russell said. “We’re doing a lot of legwork. Lots of people are in different quarters to figure out the logistics, and we’re also looking at other issues like access to bathrooms; safe camping spots for people. People are getting rousted; there’s vigilantism going on. There are a lot of people out there who are used to not being seen and noticed.”

Since the task force just formed in August, that didn’t leave it much time to do any work in advance of this winter…so Russell says it needs to act fast.

“It’s cold already at night in people’s cars, and it’s hard to understand that when you’re at home,” he said.

The Montpelier Homelessness Task Force meets at 4:30 every Monday afternoon at City Hall.

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