Relief for those with nowhere else to turn

Saturday June 29, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- Even before Morningside Shelter Executive Director Joshua Davis heard that his funding for General Assistance was being cut, Davis knew it was going to be a tough summer and fall for the homeless.

With the overflow shelter closed for the season, and a long waiting list for the beds at Morningside, Davis was hoping that the tight General Assistance funding would be able to at least provide temporary housing for those who found themselves needing housing.

Then, just last week, he learned that the Vermont Legislature had approved steep cuts to the General Assistance program, a funding source that gives human service groups money for motel rooms when there are no beds available.

Davis is still trying to understand what the cuts will mean to his program, and to other groups in Windham County, but for now one thing is clear; there are going to be far fewer options for serving the homeless this year.

With no other plan in place Morningside Shelter, and other members of Brattleboro's Continuum of Care Program, are putting a call out for tents and sleeping bags, so they can offer some relief to individuals and families who have no where else to turn.

"We know this is just a Band-Aid," Davis said. "At some point we are going to have to turn people away and when that happens we hope are at least able to offer them a tent and sleeping bag for some protection."

The Brattleboro Area Drop-In Center, at 60 South Main Street, is already receiving requests for emergency shelter, and the organization is accepting donations of tents and sleeping bags to help with the expected increase in requests.

The General Assistance program is administered through the Department for Children and Families, and the funding goes out to low-income individuals to help pay for temporary housing, utilities, food and personal needs items.

Last year about $4 million was put into the fund, Davis says, and this year human service providers across the state are going to have to divide up about $1.5 million.

Davis says human service providers are trying to figure out how they are going to make up that difference.

Every month members of Brattleboro's Continuum of Care Program meet to develop strategies to serve the homeless in the Brattleboro area.

Davis said the group decided to hold the tent and sleeping bag drive when it became apparent that the cuts to the General Assistance Program were coming and there were no other options to make up the difference.

He says the program cuts mean that fewer people will be able to use the money for emergency services, and those who do receive help will see their allocations cut, reducing their amount of time they are able to pay for emergency shelter.

"The point is that emergency housing is a last resort safety net and once that money is gone there are no other options," said Davis. "Our community safety net is already stretched beyond capacity. We want to have something to offer these people. There's really no place else for folks to go."

Tents and sleeping bags, or donations for the program, can be dropped off at the drop-in center on South Main Street.

For more information call the drop-in center at 802-257-5415.

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 279, or Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer.


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