Burlington Plans a Winter Homeless Shelter Downtown | News | Seven Days

click to enlarge The former VFW building in Burlington - DEREK BROUWER ©️ SEVEN DAYS

  • Derek Brouwer ©️ Seven Days
  • The former VFW building in Burlington

Burlington plans to open an overnight, low-barrier shelter this winter with enough beds for 30 of the roughly 200 city residents who currently sleep on the streets.

The state has agreed to fund the nearly $600,000 project, at the former VFW building on South Winooski Avenue, which is slated to be redeveloped in the spring.

Burlington city councilors will consider the proposal during a meeting on Tuesday.

The city has hosted seasonal low-barrier shelters, where guests need not be sober to enter, since 2014, initially in another building on the same street. Its location has bounced around, as has its management. For the past few years, the program has operated as a year-round shelter at the former Champlain Inn motel on Shelburne Road. That program changed hands this fall and will now use a different service approach that does not accommodate drop-in guests.

This would mark the first time the city ran the shelter directly. The proposal submitted to the city council calls for a new “homeless initiatives manager” position whose initial duties would include management of the VFW shelter. The city will lean on a temp agency, Maxim Healthcare Staffing, to staff the facility.

The state funds would also pay to outfit the VFW building with door alarms, security cameras, laundry facilities and more. The shelter would operate overnight between December 15 and March 15, 2024. Soon after, Champlain Housing Trust plans to demolish the building and erect more than 30 income-restricted apartments.

Mayor Miro Weinberger, who has supported the use of low-barrier shelters, wrote in a community-wide email on Friday that they “save lives amidst the cold of the Vermont winter, provide safety for people with no other options, provide a base for some to rebuild their lives to a more stable place, and help improve public health and safety downtown and across the city.”

In a memo to councilors, Community & Economic Development Office staff noted that the proposed shelter isn’t large enough to serve all of the city’s homeless residents, whose numbers have swelled since the pandemic. They hope, however, that many will be able to find shelter through the state-run motel program.

The city council on Tuesday will also debate a proposal to create a new response team within the Burlington Fire Department dedicated to drug overdose calls. The $182,000 pilot program, funded by opioid settlement proceeds, would allow the department to dispatch trained responders to overdose calls in a passenger vehicle instead of a fire truck and ambulance. They could assess the person in need and administer naloxone, an opioid-overdose reversal spray, if needed.

Between calls, employees assigned to the team would spend time on the streets to “establish a rapport” and offer resources to people with whom first responders have frequent contact, Fire Chief Michael LaChance wrote in a memo to the council. Burlington first responders have been called to approximately 400 overdoses this year, far more than in previous years.

On Tuesday, the council is also slated to vote on a separate, bipartisan resolution that declares drug use and sales the city’s “top public health and safety priority.”

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