Orchard neighbors Charlie Finnegan, Ann Morrow, Mary Gleason, Bob Withey, Brenda Withey, Jane Doherty Mitchell, Stacey Pape, and Louis Godin, who is holding the Community Impact Award, volunteer with the Friends of Beacon Apartments community initiative.

Orchard Neighborhood Honored with Community Impact Award

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Thursday June 09, 2016

A crowd of over 300 people gathered in Colchester May 24 at the United Way of Northwest Vermont’s (UWNV) annual awards to honor and celebrate the success of local programs, strategic initiatives, and volunteer recruitment efforts. The event also celebrated the union earlier this year of the United Way of Chittenden County with the Franklin-Grand Isle United Way. At the celebration, UWNV Executive Director Martha Maksym presented the highly coveted Community Impact Award to a collaboration of organizations and neighbors who supported the development of Beacon Apartments, which welcomed 19 formerly chronic homeless individuals as new residents in January of 2016. Included in the honor were the Friends of Beacon Apartments, a group of South Burlington residents in the Orchard neighborhood. Louis Godin on behalf of the Friends of Beacon Apartments said upon receiving the award, “The Orchard community is honored for this recognition.”

The neighborly initiative of The Friends of the Beacon Apartments began early this year when Orchard residents, led by Godin, collected items for the new South Burlington residents of Beacon Apartments. According to Godin, the response from the neighborhood was fantastic, “We are just neighbors helping neighbors.” He reports that their spring campaign collected over 2,000 items to donate to the new residents.

“I can’t tell you how grateful we are to see a neighborhood embrace a group of individuals who have been so disenfranchised for so long,” says Maksym. The director went on to explain the reason why permanent, supportive housing, has, in her words, “powerful and positive outcomes.” According to Maksym, one example is the dramatic reduction of need for hospital and health care services. In tracking the use of these services for the first 32 chronically homeless individuals that were provided permanent housing in 2015, in the 12 months prior to housing, those individuals had 826 encounters with the Emergency Department or other health care services. The hospital cost for those individuals was $170,000. Maksym writes, “Since being housed, those same 32 individuals had only 226 encounters (through July 2015) and the cost to the hospital was $36,000, a dramatic difference due almost exclusively to providing housing and supports to these folks!” Thus, she says, “First, get the chronically homeless into permanent, safe housing, and then start working on their health and well-being. Don’t make getting sober, accessing health care, getting a job, a pre-requisite for housing, as we have for so long.”

The 2016 Community Impact Award, which honors extraordinary individuals and organizations that positively impact the community, also went to other organizations instrumental in the development of the Beacon project. They include the Champlain Housing Trust, the University of Vermont Medical Center, Safe Harbor Health Center of CHCB, the Fanny Allen Foundation, the Burlington Housing Authority, the Vermont Agency of Human Services Department for Children and Families, and the Vermont Housing & Conservation Board.

Godin reports that the Orchard community efforts continue. Currently they are collecting items and cash donations for a community garden for the Beacon Apartments. Their plan is to have 10 raised-bed vegetable gardens. He says, “It’s amazing what can be done at a very local level to make a difference.”

“The collaboration between these amazing community members is a shining example of the power of working together to make an impact,” said Maksym.