Orchard residents Jane Doherty Mitchell​, Kate Freeman, and Louis Godin gather donations for their new neighbors.  

A Neighborly Welcome

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Thursday February 25, 2016

When residents of the Orchard neighborhood in South Burlington heard that the nearby Ho Hum Motel was going to be renovated and converted to subsidized, affordable, permanent housing, they took it upon themselves to begin gathering supplies for their new neighbors to make their new residences warm and welcoming.

Resident Louis Godin is the man behind the supply drive. As an employee of the Shelburne Museum, he had just completed coordination of a food drive in his neighborhood in January and through conversation with neighbors, he found there was a strong interest in doing something to welcome the new residents of the Beacon Apartments. The 19 units began filling up in January; 12 have become occupied within the last few weeks, and only two vacancies remain.

Some of the furnishings were coordinated by the Champlain Housing Trust, such as beds from the site’s previous life as a motel. Safe Harbor’s participation in the “Essential Goods” program through ReSOURCE has provided other necessary household items for the apartments. This program allows individuals and families to obtain vouchers to receive donations of durable goods such as cookware, furniture, books, appliances, toys for kids, and even desktop computers. And Godin’s efforts along with those of neighbors have been making a noticeable impact.

A number of items have been collected so far, but more are needed. Donations have included measuring cups, measuring spoons, and pots and pans, but pantry goods like canned items and pastas are also needed. Other typical household items like sponges, dish soap, laundry detergent, garbage bags, paper towels, toilet paper, and cleaning supplies are all welcome.

According to Chris Donnelly of the Champlain Housing Trust, the conversation on conversion of the motel into apartments began in 2014. “In the fall of 2014, local organizations came together to replicate an effort happening around the country called the 100,000 Homes campaign. In this program, a survey is conducted of the homeless population that identifies the most vulnerable and establishes a goal to house them over time. In the Burlington area, about 60 people were identified in this group, and Champlain Housing Trust committed to helping find a way to house them. We’ve worked well with Safe Harbor and the housing authority, and the owner of the Ho Hum was willing to work creatively with us to try something new. The result was Beacon Apartments and we chose ‘Beacon’ as a subtle nod to the Orchard neighborhood; it’s a variety of apple that according to Wikipedia is cold-hardy and a cross between ‘Wealthy’ and ‘Malinda’ apples.”

Erin Ahearn, the Homeless Healthcare Program Manager for the Safe Harbor Health Center, a program of the Community Health Centers of Burlington, explained that the housing project is for people “who have been homeless and who have been determined to be among the most vulnerable on our local streets. That can be due to medical issues, emergency medical service use, etc. . . .substance abuse and/or mental health issues are present for some of this population and appropriate intervention and care will be coordinated for residents just as medical care is.”

“Our goal is to permanently move people out of homelessness and into housing, while simultaneously addressing the challenges that contributed to their being in that position in the first place,” Ahearn added.

In order to accommodate resident needs, full case management will be available to residents on-site, seven days a week. Champlain Housing Trust has used one unit (additional to the 19) for a “night manager” who lives on site. This person, along with Krysten Farrell, also of the Champlain Housing Trust, will help people establish and/or maintain benefits like health coverage and income, as well as get them connected to the community through vocational and volunteer services. Finding local amenities like the library, transferring their mail to their new addresses, and helping people navigate basic living skills (if needed) will also be a priority.

Although The Champlain Housing Trust has a lease agreement for 15 years with the owner and was provided a $500,000 grant from the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board to rehab the rooms into apartments, they still have a gap that they are seeking funds to fill. The services provided at Beacon Apartments are being funded by UVM Medical Center, United Way of Chittenden County, and the Fanny Allen Foundation.

Champlain Housing Trust is committed to evaluating the impact of Beacon Apartments and sharing this information with the community. Donnelly said, “Part of what we believe we’ll be able to show will be that Beacon Apartments will reduce taxpayer dollars being spent for medical care and motel housing vouchers when it’s cold. And we believe we’ll be able to demonstrate better health and increased stability in the new residents’ lives.”

Donnelly added, “We’re very appreciative of neighbors stepping forward and very thoughtfully and respectfully asking how they can help. We welcome feedback and advice, and I am happy to answer any questions people might have.”

Godin reports that the response from the neighborhood has been fantastic, “We are just a community helping neighbors,” he said.

SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent