News

Homelessness Drops in Chittenden County for Third Straight Year

Posted on Monday, May 01, 2017, by Chris Donnelly

Members of the Chittenden County Homeless Alliance and Mayor Miro Weinberger today announced more progress towards their shared goal of eliminating homelessness in Chittenden County, with this year’s Point in Time count indicating a 12% drop in the number of homeless individuals. This progress includes a reduction in both the number of families experiencing homelessness and those who are chronically homeless. The 12% drop brings the overall decrease in homelessness to 45% over the past four years. The January count found 291 people in shelters, other temporary housing options, or completely unsheltered.

“The reduction this year, and for the past three years running, is a testament to collaboration and making sure we all have our eyes on the same prize,” said Erin Ahearn of the Community Health Centers of Burlington and a co-chair of the Homeless Alliance. “We have steadily decreased homelessness across all demographics and can see a future where homelessness is rare and brief.”

The Point in Time count is completed at the end of January each year in communities across the country. The count offers an opportunity to collect data on not only the numbers of people experiencing homelessness, but additional information such as household size, numbers living with mental illness or substance dependency, or the number of veterans without permanent housing. In this way, the count not only provides an ability to evaluate progress year-over-year, but also helps identify where services and resources may be deployed better.

“This third year in a row of decreases is an indication that the public investments to reduce and eliminate homelessness are working. There’s more work to do – but the fact that we’re making progress signals to us that we will succeed in meeting our goal of eliminating homelessness with additional investment in new housing, services and rental assistance,” added Margaret Bozik of the Champlain Housing Trust and the other co-chair of the Alliance.

“I am encouraged to see how much progress we have made as a community to address homelessness by focusing resources on the most vulnerable and pursuing innovative new strategies,” said Mayor Miro Weinberger. “I have great hope that with our continued collaboration we can bring an end to homelessness in Chittenden County. The $35 million Housing Bond proposal in front of the Legislature would be a big boost towards that goal.”

Progress towards ending homelessness in Chittenden County has benefited from Housing First strategies spearheaded members of the Alliance, adopted as policy by the City of Burlington in 2015, and supported by many partners, which focus resources on addressing the needs of the chronically homeless.

Several key projects have helped individuals experiencing homelessness find permanent housing over the last several years:

  • In 2013, Champlain Housing Trust’s Harbor Place, a motel in Shelburne which offers supportive services, opened and has not only saved money but been more effective at helping people find permanent housing than the simple motel voucher program.
  • Beacon Apartments in South Burlington opened by the Champlain Housing Trust and Community Health Centers of Burlington in early 2015 with the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board (VHCB), United Way of Northwest Vermont, University of Vermont Medical Center, and Shelter plus Care vouchers administered by the Burlington Housing Authority. Beacon Apartments houses and supports 19 individuals who were chronically homeless and who had medical vulnerabilities.
  • Community Health Centers of Burlington ran a low-barrier warming shelter this past winter, building on the work of COTS and the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity the previous two winters.
  • With the support of the City of Burlington, Housing Vermont and state funders like VHCB, the Committee on Temporary Shelter reopened its Daystation in April, 2017. In the same building 14 new apartments were constructed, four of which are dedicated to people who were formerly homeless.
  • The Champlain Housing Trust and the University of Vermont Medical Center are turning the Bel Aire Motel to into apartments for people who have been homeless or are unable to be discharged from a hospital bed for lack of a better option. The Community Health Centers of Burlington will provide services on site. 
  • Several communities are looking to using local Housing Trust Funds to address housing challenges: the Town of Williston is exploring creating a new trust fund, the City of South Burlington established one in 2014, and the City of Burlington has doubled its contribution to its housing trust fund.

In addition to this year’s 12% drop in the number of homeless individuals, the Chittenden County Point in Time count demonstrated several other positive trends. Since 2015, progress has been made by:

  • Decreasing chronic homelessness by 56%;
  • Lowering family homelessness by 29%;
  • Reducing homelessness among people with severe mental illness by 42%; and
  • Dropping incidence of homelessness with those affected by substance use disorder by 70%.

In spite of this progress, nearly 300 individuals continue to live without homes in Chittenden County. The Alliance and Mayor Weinberger urged leaders in Montpelier to pass the proposed $35 million dollar Housing Bond to support future efforts to address the needs of homeless individuals, or individuals at risk of becoming homeless, in Chittenden County.

Champlain Housing Trust to Buy Burlington Motel to House Homeless

Posted on Friday, December 09, 2016, by Chris Donnelly

The Champlain Housing Trust (CHT) and University of Vermont Medical Center announced a new effort today to address homelessness through an innovative partnership that deepens the connection between housing and health care.

Using funds invested by the medical center, CHT will purchase and convert the Bel Aire Motel on Shelburne Street in Burlington into eight rental apartments to house people who are either frequent users of health care services or who are patients but no longer need hospital care. The apartments will house twelve residents who lack a safe place to call home in order to recover. Click here for Frequently Asked Questions [PDF].
The tenants will be supported by a caseworker from the Community Health Centers of Burlington. In addition to a capital commitment, the UVM Medical Center is pledging its support for operating costs. The same three organizations have collaborated on other successful efforts to reduce homelessness at properties in Shelburne, South Burlington and Burlington, with a video produced on the benefits of this partnership.
One such collaboration resulted in a 60% drop over one year in the cost of providing medical care to a small group of people experiencing homelessness, saving more than $1 million. The rate of homelessness has dropped by 31% in Vermont according to the most recent annual Point-in-Time count, much of this success due to these types of partnerships and new initiatives. The reduction came on the heels of seven years of growing numbers of people without a home.
“The purchase of the Bel Aire and conversion to apartments is part of a larger successful, coordinated strategy to house people experiencing homelessness,” said Michael Monte, COO/CFO of the Housing Trust. “The UVM Medical Center’s involvement has been critical and we look forward to transforming the property in the coming months.”
“These patients deserve to be in the supportive community setting they need to improve their health, and the Bel Aire apartments will provide that,” said Dr. Stephen Leffler, chief medical officer at the UVM Medical Center.  “Our mission is to work with others to improve people’s lives, and there is no better example than this collaborative approach to addressing a critical housing need.  This is exactly the kind of investment we need to make if we’re going to achieve the goal of improving the health of our communities while controlling costs.”
The property will be purchased by mid-December and renovations will be made over the winter with expected occupancy in April. The building will be converted into six studio or one-bedroom apartments, one 2-bedroom apartment and one 4-bedroom apartment. The apartments will house tenants with a range of supportive needs, ranging from case management to live independently to those who will benefit from medical respite – or patients who don’t need hospital care but who are unable to recover on the street or in tent encampments.
CHT will be submitting a permit for the changes to the property soon. The adaptation will bring the motel, currently a non-conforming use in the City’s zoning regulations, into zoning compliance. No additional buildings or construction to expand the foot print of the property is planned.

Ending Chronic Homelessness

Posted on Tuesday, July 12, 2016, by Chris Donnelly


Last year the Champlain Housing Trust made a commitment to end chronic homelessness in our region. This commitment was grounded in collaboration – working with a variety of partners to solve what has seemed an intractable problem. 

Collectively, we are making good progress, and there's a video below that describes some of this work, or you can click here to go straight to YouTube and see it.

Chronic homelessness declined 31% last year. Already this year, working with the Burlington Housing Authority and others, another 40 individuals or families experiencing homelessness moved into one of CHT's affordable apartments. 

But there’s more to be done. Harbor Place, the motel we've been running since 2013, still provides needed accommodations and services every night to dozens of people who have no other place to turn.

For taxpayers, homelessness is expensive: a study done in San Francisco showed it costs $80,000 each year in a myriad of programs to serve people who are homeless in that city. Providing housing with services costs 56% less – and results in increased stability, dignity and opportunity. 

Out of our efforts, new partnerships have evolved that have similarly shown immediate results, and promise lasting impact. The UVM Medical Center looked at data from the 95 patients they discharged to Harbor Place and documented a savings of almost $1 million in health care costs from these guests, along with a 42% reduction in Emergency Department visits and 68% fewer inpatient admissions. If we can demonstrate this type of result from a motel, we're certain that permanent housing will have even more of an impact. 

Our work with Community Health Centers of Burlington resulted in creating Beacon Apartments in South Burlington, a former motel CHT acquired and converted to 19 apartments for people who have been chronically homeless and with medical vulnerabilities. In the video below, you’ll meet John Graves, a Beacon Apartment resident – and former guest at Harbor Place, who speaks about how he now has a place to store his belongings and can aspire to get work. Safe Harbor provides case management with funding from the UVM Medical Center and Vermont Community Foundation.

Most of us feel compassion for those in need. Many agree there's a moral imperative to help. Even if we ignore these motivations, it's clear new approaches to addressing homelessness are needed. We've been spending more to keep people homeless than it costs to provide a home. 

More than hope, we have confidence. With the partnerships and collaboration underway, tackling big problems like ending chronic homelessness don’t seem so insurmountable anymore.


A New Challenge

Posted on Friday, January 16, 2015, by Chris Donnelly

We know that decent, safe and affordable housing is a key factor in determining health and well-being, both on an individual basis but also in our neighborhoods. We know this is true with people who are homeless, and that the chronically homeless present a special challenge in the provision of health care and supportive services.

We need to expand the supply of affordable housing with supportive services in a variety of settings that work.

In order to address this issue, the CHT has issued itself a challenge: create 40 homes with services for the chronically homeless and 30 homes for homeless families. To succeed, we will need to partner with several community agencies and funders. Our newest initiatve to meet this challenge is Beacon Apartments, a repurposed motel in South Burlington to provide permanent housing with services for 19 chronically homeless single adults who are medically vulnerable. Our partners on this effort are the Safe Harbor Clinic of the Community Health Centers of Burlington, and the Burlington Housing Authority.

Affordable Homes' Impact on Health

Posted on Sunday, September 14, 2014, by Chris Donnelly

In the second of a series of papers on how affordable housing impacts other pieces of our lives, the connection between health and housing is becoming better understood. In Housing and Health: The Importance of Place, we delve into some of these impacts. As Megan Sandel, M.D., M.P.H., and Deborah Frank, M.D. write, "For many of our patients, a safe, decent, affordable home is like a vaccine—it literally keeps children healthy.”

For more information on this series of papers, contact Chris Donnelly at the Champlain Housing Trust or Kenn Sassorossi at Housing Vermont.

Photo credit: CC image Older man and nurse using blood pressure by Tunstall on Flickr [cropped]