Thank you for making our third annual Hike for the Homeless a success! With your help we raised nearly $20,000!
Saturday, October 5, 2013
It's not too late to make a contribution to the Hike and help us reach our goal!
If you're interested in supporting us with a donation, please visit our fundraising site. You can support one of our hikers, or make a general donation. THANK YOU!!
Donations may also be sent directly to us at:
Morningside Shelter, PO Box 370, Brattleboro, VT 05302
The Hike for the Homeless team from Hilltop Montessori School poses for a photo at the top of Mount Wantastiquet (10.5.2013)
Cota & Cota's Hike for the Homeless team returns from their trek to the summit (10.5.2013)
Please join us in thanking our generous Hike 2013 sponsors:
Against the Grain Gourmet Foods | The Brattleboro Retreat | New Chapter
Trust Company of Vermont | Abatem Exterminating
Lotus Graphics | The Brattleboro Reformer
Brown & Roberts Hardware
Brattleboro Savings & Loan Association | Brattleboro Subaru | Brattleboro Tire | Hotel Pharmacy
Brattleboro Pharmacy | Silver Forest of Vermont | The Latchis Hotel & Theatre
Costello, Valente & Gentry P.C. | The Richards Group
Berkley & Veller | Cady & Dugan Law Offices | Cota & Cota Heating Fuels | Everyone's Books
Goodenough Rubbish Removal | Ker-Westerlund Funeral Home | Oak Meadow Curriculum & School
Richmond Auto Repair | The Chesterfield Inn
Hair by Jessica @ Star's Studio Hair Design | Keene Industrial Paper
Local housing support agencies team up for a Tent & Sleeping Bag Drive in response to reductions in emergency housing program
BRATTLEBORO – Brattleboro’s Continuum of Care group is conducting a Tent and Sleeping Bag Drive in response to anticipated increases in people experiencing homelessness. July 1st marks another round of budget cuts by the Vermont Legislature, reducing services for General Assistance emergency temporary housing statewide. The last-resort program, which provides limited emergency motel vouchers for elderly and disabled homeless individuals and homeless families with young children, continues to experience cuts. This year, it means many families and individuals who currently qualify will be ineligible for services starting July 1st, and those who do qualify will see the length of their motel stay drastically reduced.
With Morningside Shelter operating at capacity with a year-round waiting list, and the closure of the wintertime Overflow Shelter in April, our community safety net for emergency housing is stretched beyond capacity.
As a response to the increased need, members of the Brattleboro Continuum of Care group are teaming up to run a Tent and Sleeping Bag Drive. The Brattleboro Area Drop-In Center reports that they have already had at least ten calls asking for tents and sleeping bags, and the need is expected to rise with the July 1st cuts to General Assistance.
Those with tents and sleeping bags to contribute may drop them off at the Brattleboro Area Drop-In Center, 60 South Main Street, Brattleboro, Vermont 05301 (phone: 802-257-5415). Cash donations for the purchase of tents and sleeping bags are also greatly appreciated. Checks may be made out to the Brattleboro Area Drop-In Center, and mailed to the address above. (Donations are tax deductible to the extent allowed by law.)
The Brattleboro Continuum of Care group is made up of representatives from groups including Morningside Shelter, the Brattleboro Area Drop-In Center, Southeastern Vermont Community Action (SEVCA), Youth Services, Children’s Integrative Services, the Women’s Freedom Center, Brattleboro Housing Authority, Windham and Windsor Housing Trust, the Veterans Administration (VA), Brattleboro Area Affordable Housing, and Vermont’s Agency of Human Services. The group meets monthly to collaborate on systemic responses to homelessness in the Brattleboro area.
by Kevin O'Connor as printed in the Rutland Herald and Barre Montpelier Times Argus | July 14, 2013
Kevin O’Connor / Staff Photo
Lucie Fortier, director of the Brattleboro Area Drop In Center day shelter, inventories donated tents and sleeping bags in anticipation of a 62.5 percent state cut in emergency housing assistance for the homeless.Today, Vermonters suddenly made homeless usually qualify for a state-funded motel room. So why might they receive only a locally donated tent or sleeping bag if facing the same plight next month?
The Vermont Agency of Human Services ended its fiscal year June 30 with a $4 million tab to place homeless people lacking shelter in temporary lodging — eight times the $500,000 bill of five years ago, when the state relaxed its rules limiting aid to those fleeing a fire, natural disaster or domestic violence.
The state Legislature, concerned with the ballooning cost, has cut the annual figure by more than half, to $1.5 million, for the fiscal year that began July 1. That is forcing the agency’s Department for Children and Families to create a temporary point system to assess if someone is “vulnerable” enough to receive emergency housing. And that has local homeless advocates scrambling to help those about to lose state support.
“Where are these people going to go when they are homeless and shelters are full?” Erhard Mahnke, coordinator of the Burlington-based Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition, has written state House Speaker Shap Smith and Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell in a plea to change the plan.
“Is this what you, your appropriators or policy committees of jurisdiction intended?” he asked.
The state is starting to wonder that, too. The Department for Children and Families unveiled strict new eligibility rules two weeks ago, only to find advocates on the Vermont Council on Homelessness “universally stunned and outraged … at what they see as an impending disaster,” Mahnke wrote legislative leaders.
As a result, the state has decided to delay any action until Aug. 1 in hopes of hearing out and collaborating with local social service agencies.
“We can’t walk away from the budget — it is the law — but if by working together we can make some changes that will serve more people, we will consider that,” says David Yacovone, commissioner of the Department for Children and Families.
Under proposed new rules, homeless Vermonters will qualify for a motel room only in “catastrophic situations” such as a fire or flood, during “harsh winter weather” or if they’re part of an especially “vulnerable population” — meeting not just one measure of susceptibility but a combination — who can’t find space in a shelter and weren’t responsible for their eviction.
In addition, “vulnerable” people may see their annual stays cut from up to 84 days to no more than 28. Most upsetting to advocates, proposed eligibility rules would require a household to meet at least six points under the following criteria:
· Three points each for a person receiving Social Security supplemental income or disability insurance, or who has a child age 6 or younger.
· Two points each for a person more than six months pregnant, or whose children range in age from 7 to 17, or who was discharged from a hospital stay of at least two days in the past month and has ongoing related medical needs.
· One point each if a person is receiving state Family Services Division or Reach Up assistance, has applied for Social Security supplemental income or disability insurance, is age 65 or older, a disabled veteran, recently released from foster care, or starting probation or parole after a year of prison.
Advocates question if anyone would be able to amass enough points under such rules, set to be administered by the Economic Services Division. An elderly disabled veteran receiving government aid, for example, or a young single mother recently out of foster care raising a newborn with Reach Up assistance would each be one point shy of eligibility.
“The rules were developed without any prior input whatsoever from community partners that will be on the front lines, dealing with the consequences,” Mahnke has written state leaders. “I know ESD wasn’t given a lot of latitude by the Legislature, both in terms of the $1.5 million spending limit on motels and the eligibility guidelines, but the response will lead to countless unfortunate outcomes for vulnerable Vermonters that will likely lead to even greater spending within the AHS budget.”
In response, Yacovone decided late Friday to delay any action that would have taken place this month until his department can seek out advocates’ suggestions for alternatives. He sums up the challenge of carrying out the legislative-mandated 62.5 percent budget cut as “hard.”
“When you’re asked to serve with limited funds, you try to serve the most needy of the needy,” Yacovone says. “Wherever you draw a line, there’s people who won’t be served.”
A one-day survey of social service agencies this past winter counted 1,470 homeless Vermonters, up from 1,127 a year earlier. (The totals exclude people temporarily living with others for lack of their own shelter.) But neither state nor local leaders can say how many people are currently housed in motels or would continue to qualify under the proposed new rules.
Legislators cut motel spending in their $1.4 billion general fund budget after learning of the rising costs, as well as concerns that some homeless people were requesting rooms before seeking a place to stay with friends or relatives.
The state has spent $100,000 or more a year at individual motels in Burlington, Rutland and Brattleboro — the three communities with the highest bills. As a result, the Department for Children and Families is administering the $2.5 million lodging cut while allocating $3.4 million more in transitional and permanent housing programs, rental subsidies and personal training in money management.
“That’s what we want to do more of — increase other community investments and begin to lay a different response to poverty,” Yacovone says.
But advocates question the state’s timetable for introducing and implementing the plan, which they first saw just four days before the July 1 start of the current fiscal year.
“I’m in favor of shifting from an emergency crisis system to one that’s more preventive, but there needs to be a bridge between the two,” says Joshua Davis, executive director of Brattleboro’s Morningside Shelter.
Brattleboro is considered a well-served community, with both the 29-bed nonprofit shelter and separate winter “overflow” space that serves as the state’s only “wet” refuge for homeless people who are intoxicated. But the year-round facility always has a waiting list from at least a dozen to up to 50 applicants, and the supplemental volunteer-run space is closed in the spring, summer and fall.
The nearby Brattleboro Area Drop In Center, offering the homeless support and services during the day, recently gave away its last tent to a family with three young children. Anticipating a flurry of new requests, the center is joining other advocates in asking the public to contribute more camping gear.
“We’re not trying to be dramatic about the tent drive, but we want to be able to offer something and don’t have much else,” Davis says. “We see the emergency housing program as the last safety net.”
That sentiment is echoed statewide. In Bennington, several local churches had hoped to shelter people forced out of motels, only to learn that idea wasn’t legal under their building codes. Advocates therefore went to the town Select Board last week to ask about the possibility of setting up a small tent city.
“We’re trying to figure out what we can do,” says Stacey New, president of the Bennington Coalition for the Homeless. “The state can’t give us an exact head count, but we’ve identified 35 families who could be in major crisis.”
Whatever temporary point system the state adopts will apply until Oct. 28, at which time leaders will be required to adopt permanent procedures.
“I don’t make light of any aspect of homelessness, but it’s much better to be starting this now rather than November or December,” Yacovone says of the more temperate summer season. “We’re in a period of transition. If we need to recalibrate, we will.”
But advocates, noting persistent rain, question what will happen to the newly homeless in the meantime. They are planning to voice their concerns to the Department for Children and Families this week and, if no solution is agreed upon, at a Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules meeting set for July 25 at 10 a.m. at the Statehouse in Montpelier.
“Resources are going to be very, very strained,” says Jeanne Montross, executive director of Middlebury’s Helping Overcome Poverty’s Effects (HOPE) and co-chairwoman of the Vermont Coalition to End Homelessness. “It’s going to become more and more visible not only in the state’s big cities but also in its small towns.” firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information on this issue, check out the following:
Video: WCAX Channel 3 News - July 1, 2013
"The best that we have to offer is a tent and is that really the best that we can do? I would like to challenge us to think about better ways that we can approach homelessness as an entire state." - Joshua Davis, Executive Director, Morningside Shelter
Federal sequester cuts hit home for local anti-poverty agencies
By Olga Peters / As published in the April 17, 2013 issue of The Commons
BRATTLEBORO—Local nonprofits receiving federal funds are reviewing their budgets in response to the federal sequester, saying what started as an across-the-board 5 percent spending cut could thrust greater numbers into poverty.
Steve Geller, executive director of Southern Vermont Community Action (SEVCA), said local organizations such as SEVCA “catch people in the nick of time” before they become homeless.
Cutting services for people in poverty promotes unnecessary suffering and costs taxpayers more money over time, said Geller, who called the sequester cuts “incredibly shortsighted.”
“They’re [Congress] looking at the silo and not the whole sequence of consequences,” he said of the sequester’s potential long-term effects.
According to Geller, SEVCA has received word the federal funding it receives for Head Start — a federal block grant that supports emergency family outreach workers and emergency home repairs — will be cut.
Geller estimates that SEVCA stands to lose $100,000 over the sequester.
“We consider it a lot,” said Geller. “That hurts for us to have to say that.”
Not all of SEVCA’s $7 million budget comes from federal sources. Still, the 5 percent cuts could translate into 100 to 200 households going without critical services.
Geller said the cuts are not huge in one area alone, but overall, “they erode our ability to provide quality services and meet demands.”
According to Geller, the community action agency is analyzing the budget cuts, their effect on services, and how the agency will respond.
With what information he has at this early stage, Geller estimates that, absent additional funds, some 35 to 50 families stand to go without emergency housing assistance this year. This program helps people in danger of eviction remain in place or move to another stable situation.
In Windsor County, which SEVCA also serves, the sequester could lead to the dismantling of one Head Start classroom serving 17 children, said Geller.
As the sequester’s effects ripple, SEVCA faces reductions in outreach office hours, number of people served, number of staffers in the micro-business program, and other payroll.
The agency is trying to determine the best way to absorb the reductions while protecting the most services, Geller said.
In the previous fiscal year, SEVCA served 6,300 households in Windham and Windsor counties, or about 14,000 individuals.
The agency’s services included emergency heating fuel, emergency housing, crisis resolution, continued disaster recovery services following Tropical Storm Irene, home weatherization, and tax preparation.
Worst to come?
Geller said his major concern is that these cuts might be the first volley in what he said he feared could be “a larger battle against the poor.”
The 5 percent sequester cuts follow in the footsteps of previous cuts or level-funding over several years, he said. Those dollars cover fewer services, while the cost of living only increases.
Not all the cuts will happen simultaneously, Geller said. The sequester cuts could span different fiscal years depending on how the federal government awarded the grants — some federal grants are awarded in chunks over two years, for example.
The 5 percent cuts, or the estimated $100,000, at SEVCA only pertain to federal fiscal year 2013, which runs October to September, Geller explained.
Geller said he fears that the cuts will continue ramping up in 2014. Head Start programs could see an 8 percent cut, for example.
“It’s a snowball effect,” he said. “We’re nervous about how each piece could feed off each other and create a bigger impact.”
Meanwhile, Geller said SEVCA saw a 15 percent increase in demand for services over the previous year as more people with jobs, including families with both parents working full- or part-time, had reached out for services.
That speaks to an increase in people’s desperation in the wake of the 2008 recession, he said. People hold out less hope for finding jobs and opportunities.
More people stand on the edge of homelessness, he said. Meanwhile, the sequester will hit funding for homelessness prevention.
Geller said the situation is frustrating, as it costs less to prevent homelessness than to pull a family out of homelessness, where many lose the wind from their sails. “It’s a better use of funds,” he said, adding that in his view the sequester is Congress’ “colossal blunder.”
“Time will judge if this [sequester] is an anomaly or the new normal,” he said.
Geller has served more than eight years as executive director at SEVCA. Before that, he served 18 years at a Community Action agency in Portsmouth, N.H., and in Massachusetts before that.
He described funding in his long experience as cycling up and down, and that he wouldn’t “hit the panic button yet,” but this year’s fiscal stalemate strikes him as distressing and discouraging.
“But I’m always hopeful,” Geller said.
Innovation during tough times
The 29-bed Morningside Shelter, which receives a “significant amount” of funding from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, also faces a hit in October, at the start of the 2014 federal fiscal year, reports executive director Joshua Davis.
Morningside, founded in 1979, is the only homeless shelter in southeastern Vermont, and specializes in housing placement with ongoing staff support and life skills development for both families and individuals.
Davis has served as the shelter’s executive director for a year and been affiliated with the organization more than three years. How the cuts will affect services there is unknown, Davis says. Morningside staff are in the middle of their budgeting process.
Davis is also watching the shelter’s Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG), a state-administered grant funded with federal money that helps pay for the shelter’s daily operating costs, including heating fuel.
Although the ESG is safe for now, Davis says he anticipates Morningside will feel a greater financial pinch later this year or early next.
Vermont previously kicked in extra money for social programs to cover shortfalls in federal funding, said Davis. The state, however, may tighten its belt too.
For example, he said, the legislature is considering a five-year cap on Reach Up, a Vermont Department for Children and Families program. Vermonters traditionally remain in this program as long as needed, according to Davis.
Under such a funding cap, proposed to take effect April 2014, 40 Windham County families would lose support immediately, Davis predicted. He said Morningside already averages a waiting list of 30 to 50 households.
Records show that this year, as of March 31, the shelter fielded requests for services from 114 households, and of those was able to serve 43 adults and 14 children.
Davis says he has seen a general trend of more young families seeking beds in the shelter. The bulk of the people walking through the door are unemployed or underemployed: People working at fast food restaurants or motels, for example, usually only work 20 hours a week. If they’re full-time, they might pull in $9 an hour.
Davis says that according to data he’s seen, $18 an hour is a more realistic living wage for Vermont.
“It just doesn’t add up,” he said.
Organizations such as Morningside, the Brattleboro Housing Authority, and SEVCA are part of a system that helps people get back on their feet, said Davis.
Over the past three years that Davis has been affiliated with Morningside, however, he has seen the BHA’s waiting list grow longer.
“People aren’t moving,” he said.
Without jobs or other forms of financial support, Davis added, “people will cycle down, not up.”
Services in this area are already stretched thin, he said. To do more with less, Morningside has diversified its fundraising efforts. The shelter partners with other agencies to fill gaps.
Organizations must act efficiently with what resources they have and work together, he said. Getting out of organizational silos is difficult because nonprofits often operated at “a breakneck pace.”
One such innovative collaboration between Morningside and Youth Services, Inc., is the Youth Shelter Collaborative, which is geared toward sheltering homeless youth. Morningside leases a four-bedroom apartment in Brattleboro, while Youth Services provides a live-in residential manager.
The collaborative allows Morningside and Youth Services to create a shelter space for less than it takes the state to house people in hotels as a temporary shelter, Davis said.
Rural homelessness is harder to see compared to homelessness in urban areas, but it exists nonetheless, he said.
“It’s hard to appreciate the number of people teetering on the edge,” Davis said.
Homelessness and poverty are community issues, he said: “What do we want to do about it?”
As published in the Brattleboro Reformer, Tuesday, September 11, 2012
New executive director Josh Davis at Morningside Shelter in Brattleboro.
(Zachary P. Stephens/Brattleboro Reformer)
BRATTLEBORO -- The Morningside Shelter Board of Directors has named Joshua Davis as the new executive director.
Davis, a graduate of World Learning SIT Graduate Institute, has been serving as the interim director since former director Paul Capcara stepped down in March.
When he arrived at SIT in 2008 he imagined himself traveling on to work with an organization somewhere else in the world.
But after learning more about Brattleboro and about the groups that are doing their work around the area, he saw an opportunity to serve and jumped at the chance to work at Morningside.
"I went to SIT to work with low income people either here, or abroad," Davis said. "This organization does something that is so necessary and vital to the community, and we do it in a compassionate and dignified way. I'm very happy to be a part of it."
Morningside Shelter is Brattleboro's largest year-round shelter which provides housing, and housing services, to the homeless in southeastern Vermont.
The shelter has 29 beds.
Davis started at Morningside as a volunteer cook for the community meals program.
He became an overnight case manager in 2010 and then served on the Board of Directors starting in 2011.
Morningside Board President Biz Dana said the board was impressed with his education and background, as well as the commitment he has shown to the organization.
"Josh was selected based on his unique experience with Morningside as well as his organizational development experience," she said.
After graduating from SIT, Davis worked as an AmeriCorps member with Post Oil Solutions, working on the group's food security issues.
He went on to work as a staff member at Meeting Waters YMCA and says he has been impressed with the collaboration that goes on around Windham County, and across Vermont, between organizations.
As director of Morningside Shelter, Davis works closely with the Brattleboro Area Drop In Center, Brattleboro Housing Authority, the Windham-Windsor Housing Trust and a variety of state agencies.
"I am going to do my best to strengthen those ties," he said. "Our success ties into their success, as well. Homelessness is not something that one agency is going to be able to solve."
Morningside opened its newest expansion apartments in 2010 and Davis said the organization is now working to maintain funding and help the people who do end up at the shelter.
There are currently about 50 people on the waiting list even before the usual spike that occurs when the winter weather hits.
The group's largest fundraiser of the year, Hike for the Homelessness, takes place on Oct. 6, and Davis said Morningside has just been admitted into Benchmarks for a Better Vermont, a group that works with nonprofit organizations to help them evaluate their systems and goals.
With state and federal funding mostly remaining stable, but the need continuing to grow, Davis said he is going to work with the staff and the board to make sure the people who come through Morningside get the care and services they need.
"I have been able to see this organization from multiple levels and I know the staff and the board are dedicated to everyone who is staying here," Davis said. "The people who are here are trying hard. They do everything they can and sometimes they still end up at Morningside. We want to support them through that process and I want to be a part of that."