The Champlain Housing Trust and Steps to End Domestic Violence jointly announced plans to establish a new shelter serving those escaping domestic and sexual violence in Chittenden County. CHT acquired the property with Coronavirus Relief Funds made available in the CARES Act, which were allocated by the State Legislature through the Vermont Housing & Conservation Board.

CHT has hired J.A. Morrissey to renovate what had been the Handy’s Extended Stay Suites on Route 15 in Colchester, and will be leasing it to Steps.

A major driver of homelessness is domestic violence – people fleeing their homes, with or without children, to flee abusive relationships. Typically, Steps to End Domestic Violence supports 35 households per night in the State-sponsored hotel system because the current Steps shelter can only house seven in a congregate setting. When the pandemic hit, that number was further reduced to three or four that could stay there safely.

CHT purchased the property at the end of September and is currently renovating the property to provide Steps with increased capacity to serve up to 21 households, with capacity for both individuals and families with children. This work will be complete in the next couple of months.

“While we have recognized the need for a larger shelter facility to better respond to the need for trauma-informed emergency housing for years, the pandemic has only heightened this need and made it more urgent,” said Nicole Kubon, MSW, Executive Director of Steps. “This new shelter will provide us the ability to maintain social distancing, enhance the services we are able to offer and bring the work of ending domestic violence more visibly into the community.”

Compounding the space challenges are those relating to services: with people sheltering at home since the Covid-19 pandemic, domestic violence has skyrocketed. The number of people served by Steps to End Domestic Violence increased from 40 in March, 2019 to 62 this March – an increase of over 50%.

“The Champlain Housing Trust and Steps have been working towards finding a new home for Steps for a couple of years now. CHT was pleased to be able to step in and support this critical community organization that serves people in perhaps their time of greatest need,” said Michael Monte of CHT. “The State’s allocation of these resources through VHCB is helping address this significant need to address people’s safety and health in the midst of a pandemic.”

While the location of the current shelter was kept confidential for the safety of the people staying there, the new one takes a different approach. “The departure from a confidentially located shelter to a publicly located shelter and office space will require heightened security measures but will also provide us with an opportunity to bring the issue of intimate partner violence out of the shadows,” explained Kubon. “It encourages community engagement, support and collective responsibility for the safety of all people in our communities.”

Kubon also stressed that the new shelter “will allow for more dignity for people when their lives are uprooted by violence and can support some added level of normalcy by being able to have family or friends visit during the day, or ordering food delivery on a Friday night. It also means we can stay better connected to survivors once they’ve re-established their lives, free from violence, in the community.”