The most vulnerable people in Lamoille County are getting some help during the coronavirus pandemic.
A new umbrella organization, the Lamoille Health and Human Services Response Command Center, is coordinating efforts by local agencies and has succeeded in finding temporary emergency housing for just over 50 homeless people.
They’re also working to find more long-term homes, and to get those families and individuals back on their feet, as one of the most chaotic periods in recent memory has left more and more people without a stable living situation.
Last week, the umbrella organization had found emergency housing for more than 30 people, including seven families with a total of 11 children.
By Monday, the number had grown to 42 adults and 11 children.
“The number fluctuates drastically,” said Sherry Marcelino, who works for Lamoille County Mental Health and is one of the leaders of the Lamoille Valley Housing and Homeless Coalition. “It could be very different in a couple days.”
The Lamoille Health and Human Services Response Command Center, formed earlier this year, aims to combine and coordinate the efforts of various health and human service agencies. They had generally been pulling in the same direction, but often separately.
Emergency housing was one of the first tasks, as more and more people were left without a home because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Under the umbrella are Capstone, Lamoille County Mental Health, Community Health Services of Lamoille Valley, Copley Hospital, Creative Workforce Solutions, Green Mountain Support Services, Lamoille County Planning Commission, Lamoille Family Center, Lamoille Restorative Center, Lamoille Valley Home Health & Hospice, Meals on Wheels, North Central Vermont Recovery Center and the United Way.
The combined effort it aims to serve all of Lamoille County plus Craftsbury, Greensboro, Hardwick, Stannard and Woodbury.
Now, with emergency housing found, the organization is looking for more permanent solutions. To that end, the Lamoille Valley Homelessness and Housing Coalition was scheduled to meet today, May 14.
Marcelino said she and others involved have been reaching out directly to landlords and to agencies that could help finding long-term housing for people who need it.
After the meeting, Marcelino hopes to “have a good idea of who can do it, provide long-term housing.” But money is an issue. Most service agencies operate on a fiscal year that ends June 30. They’ve been stretched through the pandemic, and their budgets were tight to start with.
They hope to receive state and federal grants to help deal with the pandemic problems, but, “given the current circumstances, I dare not say when we might now,” Marcelino said.
A search for housing
Work to find temporary housing began in March, when state requirements — aimed at keeping people away from one another to slow the spread of coronavirus — forced an early closure of the Lamoille Community House, the homeless shelter in Hyde Park.
“We had to get people out of congregate living and into individual rooms,” said Lamoille County Sheriff Roger Marcoux, who was instrumental in getting the shelter started. Some people had been living there much of the winter, but now they needed individual spaces, and local agencies were able to get them into local hotels or motels, mainly in Lamoille County, but also in Orleans and Washington counties.
But things kept getting worse. The pandemic shut down much of the economy, affecting more and more people who suddenly no longer had a stable home.
The number of people seeking aid, both in Lamoille County and across the state, has continued to grow.
Food, mental health
The umbrella agency is working to make sure people in emergency housing get three meals a day, have access to health care and mental health services, and can use the internet to stay connected to friends and family during the stay-home period.
Next will be connecting people with potential employers.
Several local restaurants — including El Toro, the Charlmont and Green Goddess Café — have contributed meals, and Lamoille Community Food Share soon jumped on board to help, too.
What happens next?
Government money has been covering the cost of dozens of people staying in emergency housing. It was initially set to expire on May 15, which would have put all those people back out the street.
But state officials now aim to extend the housing help, “so everyone gets connected with a service provider and can get long-term housing,” Marcelino said. Over time, she said, everyone should be able to move out of emergency housing.
Marcelino and Will Eberle from the Vermont Agency of Human Services are leading the charge to find that long-term housing; Marcelino can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-730-6255 and Eberle at email@example.com or 802-760-8741.