Homelessness in the Upper Valley – Five Things to Remember

Haven Emergency Shelter Renderings

Dear friends,

I hope you had a wonderful and warm Thanksgiving with friends and family.

At the regularly scheduled meeting of the Hartford Planning Commission on Dec. 18, I’ll appear on behalf of the Haven seeking approval for an important project – to purchase and renovate a building in White River Junction on North Main Street (the old 25,000 Gifts & Woolens building) that will provide 20 beds for a new adult shelter. This space will also allow us to operate day services that will help people who are unhoused connect with Haven service coordinators and other important programs that can help them. I’d like to share with you why this project is so important.

There are five points I’d like you to think about. First, I want you to know about the need for this project. Second, it’s important to consider the cost of inaction. Third, I believe this project fits in with the broader revitalization of Hartford. Fourth, this new shelter can be a gateway for people to achieve permanent housing. And finally, I believe deeply that addressing homelessness needs to be a community wide-effort. The Haven is ready to do its part, but many more people and organizations need to be involved.

  1. Why this project is urgent.  There is a growing crisis that has left an increasing number of people living outside, on town streets, cars, sleeping in dumpsters, in the woods and under bridges, and straining the capacity of states, municipalities and organizations, including the Upper Valley Haven. The Hartford district covering northern Windsor and Orange counties has more than 150 households experiencing or at risk of homelessness. The large majority are adults without children. This summer, Lebanon identified more than 36 unhoused people. In recent weeks, the Haven has had more than 10 people daily coming to take a shower. And Vermont continues to tighten eligibility of its emergency housing program that relies on local motels. This will likely end next year. At present, there are 38 people currently sheltering in motels in our district.

Left unchecked, this crisis will put the growing ranks of unsheltered community members at risk of death and harm as winter arrives and add to the challenges of unhoused individuals and families throughout the year. This is a human cost we cannot allow. While this problem will only be solved through the addition of permanent housing, our work at the Haven tells us that we must implement interim measures such as the addition of 20 shelter beds as we pursue more lasting solutions to this crisis.

  1. There’s also a cost of inaction to the community. Being unhoused, living hidden, often alone and in inaccessible places increases the risk of health crises and the challenges for emergency response systems. Being in a shelter reduces these costs and the likelihood these crises will occur. The lack of an emergency shelter with open beds available each evening also leaves emergency services without an effective response when they encounter people living outside and in need of a safe place to sleep.
  2. We will turn a community eyesore into a place in which the entire community can be proud. White River Junction has been transformed in recent years through extensive new building projects and property renovations. We will make a significant investment in this property that is unlikely to occur without our project. We have secured the majority of funding needed and are committed to filling the remaining gap. This renovated space can become a welcoming gateway to White River Junction and a symbol of human value shared by this community.
  3. Shelter can be a gateway to housing and ending homelessness. The new shelter builds on the Haven’s longstanding history of connecting people to permanent housing. If approved, the new shelter, scheduled to open in early 2025, will add desperately needed beds and provide safe accommodations for many people without other options. Over the course of a year, hundreds of people will be helped. And in addition to providing safe places to sleep, day services will provide the opportunity for people to connect with vital health and other services that will be available, employment and to work with Haven service coordinators who can help them secure housing.
  1. It takes an entire community coming together to address complex issues like homelessness and housing. This is not the sole responsibility of the Haven, though we are a valuable resource. It is not the responsibility of only one or two municipalities, though we welcome the opportunity to work with Lebanon on a winter season shelter this year and have enjoyed the support of Hartford for over 40 years. Every town in the Upper Valley needs to focus on what it can do, especially in creating more housing that is affordable.

The Haven stands ready to leverage our expertise and experience as part of a community-wide solution from which all will benefit. We welcome the development of partnerships with local governments, other service providers, people who are experiencing housing instability and homelessness, and local residents who believe the Upper Valley should reflect a generous spirit of caring for everyone.

As we work to bring interim solutions online, state and communities must invest in proven strategies to end homelessness. We don’t lack for good, effective ideas. But Vermont and New Hampshire need to develop a plan and secure the resources to effect this change. As a priority, we must increase the supply of affordable housing in our community and continue to address the zoning and other barriers that have contributed to the current crisis which does not only represent the needs of people who are unhoused, but the economic and social health of the Upper Valley for everyone. And thinking more creatively about how to provide resources to people who are unhoused and not penalize or criminalize them is also essential.

In the meantime, the Haven hopes to create more places where people without a bed to sleep at night can be welcomed and supported.

As always, I’m happy to answer any questions and welcome your suggestions and comments. Please contact me by email (mredmond@uppervalleyhaven.org) or by phone at 802-478-1802.


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