State plans to end child and family homelessness

MONTPELIER — State officials are rolling out initiatives to end child and family homelessness in Vermont by 2020.

Monday morning, Gov. Peter Shumlin and Agency of Human Services Sec. Hal Cohen announced plans by the state to follow federal models to end child and family homelessness, including the construction of affordable housing and the consolidation of services to prevent homelessness in the first place.

“The stress and instability of homelessness can have profound impacts on children’s health, behavioral development and educational achievement,” Cohen said. “It’s time to wake up and realize that this is intolerable and that we are responsible to build the Vermont we want to see. For families without housing, we can do better than a motel room on cold nights.”

On any given night, there are approximately 1,500 homeless people in Vermont, with about half of the population in the state’s emergency shelters comprised of families.

Among families with children, homelessness is on the rise. According to annual data collected from school districts and supervisory unions by the Agency of Education, the number of homeless children in Vermont has risen 46 percent during the past five years, from 784 in 2010 to 1,145 in 2014.

The state will model its effort to end child and family homelessness after a framework developed by the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, said Angus Chaney, director of housing for the Agency of Human Services.

“The family connection framework is the whole suite of programs that cities and states are finding most effective in ending homelessness,” said Chaney, who said the federal framework is focused on quickly connecting homeless families with housing.

“It front loads financial assistance to get someone in permanent housing within a week or a month, and provides services and financial assistance when needed,” Chaney continued. “The focus is to get them into housing quicker.”

The initiatives will be rolled out in Rutland and Washington counties with the Homeless Prevention Center in Rutland and Capstone Community Action in Barre.

Deborah Hall, executive director of the Homeless Prevention Center, said the plan calls for the creation of a database for the sharing of information among the various entities that offer social services “so households won’t have to tell their story 15 times.”

Hall said another initiative includes coordinating with landlords in a given region to develop a list of available housing, again, with the goal of securing housing for a homeless family as quickly as possible.

Monday’s announcement came as Shumlin announced a $580,000 federal grant to build 14 units of affordable housing and a new day station in the Burlington area.

“Even with serious budget challenges, we are fortunate in Vermont to have many of the programs and partnerships already in place to support an ambitious initiative,” Shumlin said. “We can build on these foundations to achieve the goal of ending childhood and family homelessness by 2020.”

Chaney declined to speculate on how many units of affordable housing will need to be built, or how much it might cost the state to meet the goal of eliminating child and family homelessness in the next five years.

“This is a marathon, not a sprint, and I know this will evolve into directions we don’t yet see,” Chaney said. “As we look at the data, it will drive what we launch and where we launch.”

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