Helpless & Homeless in Central Vermont

They’re poor and jobless. They’re nasty addicts. These are some of the things U-32 students have to say about homeless people.

And in this story there are no photographs of the people interviewed. The homeless live with so much shame of their lifestyle that they were uncomfortable with a reporter from the U-32 Chronicle taking photos. Some were not even secure with a camera in the Good Samaritan Shelter, in Barre, the only homeless shelter in Central Vermont.

The  2014 “Point in Time”  survey  showed that homelessness in Vermont had increased by nine percent; 1556 people claimed to be homeless, 271 of them were kids.

image01Austin Andrew of Barre, Vt was formerly homeless. “I lost my apartment in 2014, for a lot of different reasons.”  Austin has a daughter but was currently going through a divorce.

“I smoked and drank a little more than I should. Bills weren’t my priority. My wife had left me and on top of the stress that brought to me I worked as a residential painter and had to do a lot of traveling around Vermont and New Hampshire. The gas was expensive.”

Austin was homeless for about a year and a half before getting back on his feet.

“The hardest part in being homeless for so long was losing my daughter and knowing I failed. I had to live in my car and that was hard to do. You can only keep your car running so long before the battery will die. So the nights got cold. I didn’t turn to the shelter because I felt I got myself into this mess, I’m no one else’s problem.”

Judi Joy the Manager of The Good Samaritans was asked what she thought was the main cause of homelessness in Vermont and she said,  “I think a great deal of the reason is the lack of affordable housing. But then of course there’s drug and substance abuse, domestic violence, and mental instability.”

Patty has been at the shelter for only two weeks. “I was in the crisis center at the Maple House and when they released me my family didn’t want anything to do with me. They didn’t want to take care of me because of my mental illness.”

Chuck has been at the shelter for eight months. He slept in his car for two years.

“The hardest part in sleeping in your car is trying to find a place to park it. Both of my parents died. My mother died when I was 7 and my father died in 1984.”  When his trust fund ran out he had no money to pay for his parents’ place. So after living in Milton for 54 years he lost his house.  

“I just want to go home to Milton.”

image02“We make plans with the residents,” Jodi said. “We have a case manager Denise. She meets with all residents and has them work on applications for jobs and housing. We can’t force someone to do these things, but we can encourage them.”

“We’re allowed two totes of belongings at the shelter and we all have a locker. The hardest part about the shelter is there’s limited space and the rules remind you that you’re not living independently.” There are sixteen beds for boys and eleven beds for girls, which are placed into different rooms.

“We’re at capacity almost every night. Sometimes we have to send people to local motels because we’re so full. It’s tough being the only shelter in central Vermont.

We get lots of local support.”  

Dinner is always made and served by volunteers. Spaulding High School’s sports department makes a dinner once a month. Jodi said, “Once a month Domino’s delivers pizza to us.”

“I do believe homelessness is a problem and isn’t addressed enough in the State of Vermont. The biggest thing the shelter needs is overnight volunteers– people to stay and supervise the shelter at night with all the stereotypes of homeless people, it’s hard for people to feel safe going into a place like this overnight,”Jodi said.

“Coming into the shelter everyday I see so many different stories and situations it really opens your eyes to see the real world. But it’s the community that helps with so much.”