By Samuel M. Trudel, Burlington Free Press
The story can be very sad, but there are important successes. A homeless mom and dad and their two children recently spent almost two months at the shelter. With the supportive services they received, the children attended school; dad’s health challenges were cared for; the shelter provided gas money for the mom to drive to employment interviews; and she was hired, with benefits, by a large employer in Chittenden County. Just last week the family moved into their own apartment with enough money saved for the first month’s rent.
Last year there were 2,143 homeless individuals in Vermont, according to a single-night count — maybe one family grew up in your town, was a neighbor, many were moms or dads, brothers, sisters — many were veterans. Vermonters pride themselves on their independence, on their self-sufficiency, but when our neighbors are struggling due to pressures not of their own making, we rally to help them. When an accident happens, we come to help; when someone is sick, we come to help; if the barn is burning, we come to help.
It might not surprise you to learn that in these difficult economic times, many of us are only a bit of bad luck away from needing this help. According to the Department of Labor, 5,000 more Vermonters were unemployed this October compared to last year, and home foreclosures in Vermont are up substantially. Combine these worrisome statistics with the fact that Vermont has a shortage of 21,000 affordable rental units, according to a recent statewide housing needs assessment.
This past fall I worked as a social work intern at the John Graham Shelter as part of my last year of graduate studies in social work at the University of Vermont. Probably like you, I had driven by the unassuming shelter many times without any knowledge of the incredible efforts being made there to help folks get back on their feet. The people who find themselves at the shelter are our neighbors, a young man attending school, a family with children, a local single woman putting her life back together after experiencing domestic violence, another young local family whose father had an accident and is unable to work.
It seems the proverbial barn is burning, and many have come to help. I write of the John Graham Shelter to sing the praises of this quiet and remarkable organization. Every day of the year there is compassionate work being done there to support our neighbors to regain their footing in life. In this season when we are so thankful for our family and friends and the great joys of living in such a caring community, I want to ask for your help for the important work being done to serve those who find themselves homeless.