MONTPELIER – On Thursday, Vermonters put a spotlight on the struggles of people who don’t have a place to stay.

Annual Homelessness Awareness Day provides people with lived experience and those working to help the homeless a platform to speak out.

Advocates say now more than ever, housing is the foundation upon which all else stands. Two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, the organizations working hard to bring that stability are continuing to rise to the occasion, but all that work takes a toll.

“Shelter and service staff like many essential workers are exhausted from unrelenting urgency,” said Martin Hahn, Executive Director of the Vermont Coalition to End Homelessness.

Hahn was one of nearly a dozen Vermonters who gave testimony to the House Committee on General, Housing and Military Affairs on Thusday.

Speakers said that community organizations across Vermont are fighting two battles at once – working to end homelessness while trying to retain and recruit the workforce necessary to take that challenge on.

At emergency shelters like the Samaritan House in St. Albans, it’s been hard to do both.

“As the world adapts, so does the needs of our clients, and the circumstances that they face when experiencing homelessness,” said Services Director Martina Newell. “Their situations become more complex, they require more resouces from designated agencies.”

Newell told state lawmakers that in order to keep services running strong, it’s critical that Vermont’s legislative priorities match the need of organizations like the Samaritan House.

“Adequate access to funding, affordable housing options for our clients, benefits and salaries to retain our extraordinary staff members, and the ability to create systems that are accessible to our clients,” Newell said.

The importance of those resources are best described by the people who used them to finally get out of homelessness. John Parent, a veteran who had lived homeless, talked about his experience with Pathways Vermont and several other community organizations.

“Going from homelessness and addiction and now living in a one bedroom apartment is so awesome,” Parent said. “It was a godsend to me, a blessing. It’s not just the organization, it’s the individuals in these organizations that are like guardian angels to me.”

Homelessness Awareness Day also brought a reminder of those who couldn’t find help.

In Montpelier, The Vermont Coalition to End Homelessness placed flags across the State House lawn to represent the 2231 adults and 360 children considered homeless in last year’s point in time count survey.
Reverend Joan Javier-Duval of the Unitarian Church of Montpelier led a candlelight vigil for those who are no longer with us.

“They laughed with joy and cried tears of sorrow. They had hopes and dreams, and they suffered from trauma, ill health, exposure to elements, and lack of access to basic resources,” Javier-Duval said. “We mourn that their lives were cut short without knowing the stability of safety and a home to call their own.”

The goal of the point in time count is to get a snapshot of all those experiencing homelessness in Vermont on a given night. This year’s count will take place on January 26.