Advocates Cheer New Vermont Facility for Homeless

As a new drop-in center prepares to open, some are calling for even more resources to address mental health concerns

A new chapter is about to begin in Burlington, Vermont’s effort to reduce homelessness, but a recent emergency has left some calling for even more resources to address mental health problems within the transient population.

The Committee on Temporary Shelter, or COTS, unveiled its new “Daystation” Monday, replacing a series of temporary spaces that followed the 2012 loss of the drop-in center’s permanent home to flash floodwaters.

At the center, which is opening next week, homeless adults can get a noontime meal, do their laundry, take a shower, and launch a job search. Other services are also offered through the facility.

“People who’ve sort of given up on the world begin to feel human again,” said Rita Markley, the executive director of COTS. “When you’re just in survival mode, you lose a lot of who you really are when you’re not in crisis.”

The facility is a critical component, COTS said, of breaking the fall into homelessness and providing people a first step back toward housing.

The COTS celebration of its new facility comes just days after a shocking daytime stabbing death involving two homeless men who were not associated with the non-profit.

The crime took place last Wednesday in the heart of the city’s shopping and dining district, in plain view of pedestrians.

Police said Richard Medina and his suspected killer, Louis Fortier, both had long criminal records and histories of erratic, sometimes dangerous behavior.

Fortier pled not guilty and is being jailed without bail.

COTS said neither the victim nor the suspect in the rare killing on the busy Church Street Marketplace was receiving services from the non-profit at the Daystation or its other facilities.

However, COTS did say the case underscores a real need in the community.

“We strongly support investments in a strong mental health system,” Markley told necn, noting that resources available to people experiencing mental health crises have been declining.

Vermont’s governor expressed concern, too, about responses to mental health crises.

“This is an area that we need to pay attention [to],” Gov. Phil Scott, R-Vermont, said Monday.

Congressman Peter Welch warned funding for human services would slip even more under President Trump’s proposed budget, which calls for deep cuts to domestic programs, and for a shift of tens of billions of dollars to defense spending.

“The budget is a real threat to our capacity to continue to meet the needs of local communities, and not just Burlington, but all around the state and all around the country,” said Rep. Welch, a Democrat.

As community leaders look for fixes, including to the strained mental health system, they’re grateful for the new COTS project.

Through a partnership with Housing Vermont, the renovated historic building on North Avenue also features 14 affordable apartments.

Seven of the apartments are fully furnished and are set aside for people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. The other seven apartments are designated as permanently affordable housing.

The funding for the project totaled $8.2-million, which came from a mix of private and public sources, according to COTS and Housing Vermont.

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