Committee on Temporary Shelter focuses on rapid housing
By JESS ALOE
Nov. 28, 2017
BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) — Last winter, Bruce Butland was sleeping in a homeless shelter.
This winter, he lives in a tidy studio overlooking Lake Champlain, one of 14 apartments in the recently opened Committee on Temporary Shelter building on North Avenue in Burlington.
COTS believes that housing is a fundamental human right and that permanent housing, not emergency shelter, is the solution to homelessness. Butland is an example of how the nonprofit trying to chip away at the problem until everyone in Vermont is housed.
The new building opened in April. It also hosts the Daystation, a drop-in center where the city's homeless people can come during the day for showers, laundry, to use computers and get connected to services ranging from health care to employment.
Butland lived in a subsidized apartment until he couldn't afford it anymore in 2016. He had lost his job as a maintenance person at Price Chopper and was undergoing surgeries.
He first began sleeping in the low-barrier warming shelter, and then in the COTS-operated Waystation, the adult homeless shelter on South Winooski Avenue.
"I was kind of scared at first," he said, about his first nights in the shelters. But, he said, he made good friends, who he still spends time with today. He describes them as the "four Musketeers."
Butland said his case manager, Todd Watkins, recommended him to live in the new apartments in the building. He pays $150 a month. The rest of the rent is subsidized by COTS.
When the Committee on Temporary Shelter broke ground on the building March 2016, Executive Director Rita Markley estimated the city needed about 100 units of subsidized housing to make a substantial change in the number of visibly homeless people.
But the 14 units at 95 North Ave has changed the life of Butland, who was one of three people in the running to get the apartment. The only qualifications are income-based, said Becky Holt, COTS director of development.
The organization provided a bed and a dresser, and helped him get other household supplies, like pots and pans.
He has a yearlong lease and he's hoping, he said, to be able to move into another apartment by the spring, freeing up the subsidized apartment for another person, although there are no time limits to how long a person can stay.
Watkins was one of the case managers recently laid off by COTS because of funding issues and a refocusing of its resources, according to Holt. The organization has lost federal Housing and Urban Development funding for case management and recently lost a state Reach Up grant for family case management.
Last month, the organization restructured its services to focus more narrowly on rapid rehousing and homelessness prevention, said Markley. The organization ended case management services and has hired two "housing navigators" instead, and is interviewing to fill a third position.
Holt said the housing navigators are more specifically focused on housing, while case management is more holistic.
The change was sparked in part by the end of the Reach Up funding, Holt said, but was something the organization needed to do anyway.
"We're trying to do a better job with the resources we have," Holt said.
Butland said Watkins was helping him look for work. Now, he's navigating the process on his own. Butland works a few hours a week in the Daystation downstairs from his apartment, cleaning.
He got the job, he said, because COTS was looking for a maintenance person to help keep the new space in tip-top shape, and they noticed he was always willing to help out.
"I was always volunteering," he said.
The Daystation is a "friendly place to come," where somebody can get a meal and find help finding a job or other services, he said.
Butland said he would like the people of Burlington to know that many different kinds of people end up homeless.
"Homeless people aren't all bad," he said.
COTS also provides transitional housing, homelessness prevention and rehousing assistance for both single adults and families.
The building cost $8.2 million to build, Holt said, and COTS partnered with several organizations to raise money, including Housing Vermont, Vermont Housing and Conversation Board and the federal government's Department of Housing and Urban Development.
In the 2017 fiscal year the organization helped 2,381 people, including 855 children. The nonprofit brought in $3,324,248 in revenue. The biggest chunk, 36 percent, came from individuals and businesses. The biggest expense was the family shelter, while the second biggest expense was the adult shelter.
Butland added that if people want to help, they can donate clothing, blankets or other supplies.
"Please donate," he said.
Information from: The Burlington Free Press, http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com