On a single night in January more than 1,200 people in Vermont were homeless. The annual Point in Time count of homelessness report issued this week found an overall increase across the state with some regional differences.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requires that Point in Time counts of homeless persons must be conducted “at least biennially.” Vermont undertakes the count annually, according to Vermont Coalition to End Homelessness Co-Chair MaryEllen Mendl. She believes the count provides a valuable measure of the state’s homeless population. “The data is used to do many different things. It’s used to assess and identify housing service gaps and needs. We capture the most vulnerable homeless population which is really those who are literally homeless. It doesn’t include people who are what we call precariously housed or at risk of becoming homeless. It also shines a light on insufficient affordable housing units and things that are being cut by the federal government if not the state government. This is a tool that we’ve been using for many years to kind of get a picture at one night in what you would think would be one of the coldest months in Vermont anyway to see what is out there. And really to raise the awareness of people who are experiencing homelessness.”
Mendl, who is also the Executive Director of the United Ways of Vermont, says more than 10 percent of the people counted were unsheltered and outside in the cold. “There were sheltered versus unsheltered people that we counted. So people who might have had shelter that particular night in an emergency shelter or transitional housing they were counted. And then there was the homeless population of unsheltered, those who are in the camps and on the streets, in their cars. Any place that’s not really meant for human habitation.”
This year’s count, which occurred on the night of January 24th, found 1,225 Vermonters homeless. That was an 11 percent increase statewide from the 2016 count. But northwest Vermont showed declines. In Chittenden County, the state’s most populous, there was a 12 percent decline in homelessness, and to its north there was a 17 percent reduction in Franklin County. Neighboring Lamoille County saw an increase. The Point in Time count found 306 of the homeless counted, or 25 percent, were children. 47 percent reported they were homeless for the first time.
Vermont Coalition to End Homelessness Co-Chair and Champlain Housing Trust Director of Asset Management Margaret Bozik says the count is beneficial because of the consistency of the information that’s measured. “And it truly is the only data that we have that does that. So it gives us trends over the course of time. And it also gives us broad demographic measures so we can say within the homeless population how many households are families? How many are single adults? How many are dealing with disabilities? And that really helps you to be planning around, for example on household size, what size of apartments do you need to be creating. And in terms of supportive services what are the disabilities that people are showing that they need support with.”