Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the State of Vermont has provided emergency temporary shelter through the General Assistance Fund and Economic Services. The State’s public health response has allowed people experiencing homelessness (some unsheltered, others staying in temporary housing or congregate care shelters) to have safe places to stay that allow for social distancing. With funding from FEMA, Vermont is currently covering the cost of rooms for approximately 2,000 individuals at more than 70 hotels/motels across the state.
In the Upper Valley, five local motels/hotels are involved in this program and provide shelter to 160 households. Although our service coordinators provided resources and support to many individuals and families experiencing homelessness pre-pandemic, the growing need required expansion of our services to help our neighbors navigate finding and securing housing as well as any other related challenges. The Haven has two full-time Hotel Case Workers, Rebecca and Katie, providing wraparound (comprehensive) services to people staying in the hotels/motels in roles also funded through FEMA. These staff are focused on keeping hotel guests physically, mentally, and emotionally safe.
While some of the services are COVID-19 related, all the people in the program are dealing with the added strain and uncertainty of homelessness. Guests present with an array of different challenges: the effects of long-term poverty, disability, non-COVID healthcare needs, mental health issues, substance abuse issues, trauma. Each person’s needs vary, and the two staff personalize assistance to community members’ needs.
“What people really need is housing,” notes Katie. “Primarily low-barrier housing that doesn’t discriminate against folks with low or no income, criminal history, poor or no housing history, etc. We also need better access to mental health services across the board, including substance use supports. Next to housing, that is the second greatest need that clients come to us for and there isn’t enough support for everyone asking.”
Katie and Rebecca provide a wide range of support, including:
- Referrals to Good Neighbor Health Clinic
- Registration assistance for COVID-19 vaccinations
- Help obtaining insurance or a primary care physician
- Completion of community health forms
- Connecting people with mental health or substance use services
- Narcan or other harm reduction supplies
- Education about COVID-19, social distancing, and ways to stay healthy
- Help obtaining documents needed for housing like social security card, driver’s license or non-driver ID, or birth certificate
- Connecting individuals with winter coats, clothing, and basic hygiene items
- Referrals to other service organizations like LISTEN for clothing vouchers or telephones to make important phone calls about housing, employment, etc.
- Assistance with applications for food stamps or Reach Up
- Help securing childcare so guests can return to work
As Rebecca says, “We are also sometimes just there to listen to the goals, worries, and frustrations of guests trying to navigate their way through their lives from the confines of a hotel room.”
Because of Vermont’s program, very few people experiencing homelessness across the state have contracted or spread COVID-19. Because of the work of people like Katie and Rebecca, individuals and families in the Upper Valley experiencing homelessness can meet immediate needs and find support as they work to improve their futures.