Homeless Shelter Proposed at 372 Dorset Street

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Thursday December 10, 2015

A long time social worker and former executive director of the Burlington Emergency Shelter, Jon Svitavskay, came before the school board December 2 to answer questions and provide an overview of his concept for a homeless shelter in South Burlington. Svitavskay is interested in the former MP 103.3 building and has met with Fire Chief Doug Brent and Police Chief Trevor Whipple to discuss what structural requirements would need to be met in order to operate a shelter in the space. Svitavskay has yet to come before the Development Review Board with his application, but hopes to do so in early January.

During the school board meeting, Svitavskay provided information that he hoped would allay any trepidation about a homeless shelter being located so close to the district’s middle and high schools. Should this shelter open, it would be the sixth Svitavskay has operated. From 1982 to 1994, he served as executive director of the Burlington Emergency Shelter, which he said was located a block away from Lawrence Barnes Elementary School. During his 12-year tenure, he reports that there were no incidents.   

“When people think of a homeless shelter, they often think of the negative aspects . . . they think of people as bums or victims; neither one is true,” said Svitavskay. He further explained that in order to qualify for the shelter, where food and clothing would be provided, as well as access to Alcoholics Anonymous services, people would need to be sober and working to resolve their homelessness. A daily, ten-minute intake would be designed to help people outline their goals and plans for the following day, such as searching for employment. He anticipates the shelter could house 20-25 adults (primarily over age 22) and the hours of operation would be 7 p.m. to 7:45 a.m. so that guests of the shelter would be gone before students arrive for school. The anticipated average length of stay would be 20 days.

When asked, why South Burlington? Svitavskay explained that the location is on the bus line and is close to nearby social services agencies. He explained that it had been difficult to find building options in the area. The rent for the MP 103.3 building was slated to be $8,500 per month, but Svitavskay managed to negotiate with the owner, the Handy family, to $5,500 per month.

The shelter will not be affiliated with a specific social services agency, but Svitavskay said he has solid working relationships with a number of area organizations. The shelter will be supported by private donations and would seek 501c(3) non-profit status.

Superintendent David Young said that the safety concern is heightened due to the proximity to the schools.

Svitavskay said he did not begrudge the school district’s concerns and most of all wanted to be a good neighbor. He explained that in other locations, the guests of the shelter have helped volunteer in the community and shoveled walkways in the winter, but he wouldn’t suggest implementing that aspect of the shelter right away since he would want to establish trust with the community first.

The next step in the process will be Svitavskay’s presentation to the Development Review Board.

SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondnet