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EXCLUSIVE: New homeless overnight shelter going up in Montpelier

By Michael Bielawski,

There will be a new homeless shelter to be opened in just two weeks at the Elk’s Club building in Montpelier not far from the roundabout. It will be overnight only, meaning users will arrive in the evenings and leave in the morning.

It should be for about 15 beds although there will be capacity for maybe 20 beds if needed. The hours will be from 6 PM to 8 AM.

The building will be shared with an early childcare facility for ages birth to three. Its operating hours are mostly outside of when the new shelter will be open.

Meanwhile, the homeless situation in the region is getting worse.

“There’s a lot of people living outside,” said Rick DeAngelis who is director for Good Samaritan Haven, said in a phone interview on Tuesday morning. “We have an incredibly high rate of homelessness in Washington County on a per capita basis.”

State losing roughly 100 rentals per year

DeAngelis also said that he recently discovered a disturbing trend concerning rental units which are crucial for housing low-income Vermonters. It turns out according to data from the Vermont Housing Finance Agency that over the past nine years, over 1,000 units have been converted into short-term rentals.

Also, new units are slow to replace those losses.

“I will tell you for sure that we are not adding 100 units a year,” DeAngelis said.

He emphasized that this trend really hurts the Vermonters who are most vulnerable to becoming homeless.

“The people at the bottom who have the lowest incomes and the worst credit and other issues challenging them, they are the ones that drop out at the bottom and we’re just trying to provide as much shelter as we can,” he said.

He suggested that there’s more work to be done.

“I don’t think we are even close to providing enough but we’re doing what we can and the facility up at the Elk’s Club is just to keep people alive, to keep people from freezing to death,” he said.

Homeless encampment dissolved in the same area

Last week a stray bullet hit a school bus in the same neighborhood as the Elk’s Club, the response included police making arrests and confiscating guns at the encampment and no one is currently there anymore.

“Initially we had a wave of people leaving the hotels last June and we did direct some folks there and what happened is there were several people who started camping down there,” DeAngelis said.

He said they began to see some signs of misbehavior at the site.

“We had some concerns about their behavior and at least one individual we knew had weapons and there were Facebook posts of this individual brandishing their firearms,” he said. “So for the most part we are staying clear … we are no longer directing people to camp there.”

The co-director of Good Samaritan Haven Julie Bond's son was on a bus that was behind the one that got struck by the bullet.

“Right after it happened he called his mom and said ‘I’m OK don’t worry but there’s been a shooting.’ So we were quite upset by that news.”

He said that police were right away investigating a connection between the bullet incident and the homeless camp, and police have cleared the site.

“We’re not going back there, and after the flood, it’s not a good area for people to be camping out,” DeAngelis said.

He noted that the temperatures are getting colder these nights.

“We don’t think camping is a great solution and it’s just harder to maintain safety and control and to make sure everybody is OK and in this case maybe you have some individuals that were misbehaving and it probably didn’t help that they were camping down there,” he said.

The author is a reporter for the Vermont Daily Chronicle


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