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Posts Tagged ‘religious leaders’

Photo: Jessica Ojala
Rabbi David Fainsilber (left) and Rev. Rick Swanson are working with law enforcement and volunteers to combat winter homelessness in Vermont.

Vermont gets really cold in winter, and the most recent winter was especially brutal. That is why a coalition of volunteers, religious leaders, and law enforcement officers have banded together to combat homelessness. Seeing families with young children living in their cars in bitter, brutal weather made them say, Enough is enough.

Reports Mark Davis at Seven Days Vermont, “An improbable alliance of religious leaders, law enforcement officials and volunteers quietly opened Lamoille County’s first homeless shelter. The sheriff’s department owns the Yellow House in Hyde Park, and a band of volunteers and sheriff’s deputies has been staffing it since the first frozen weeks of February.

“The shelter isn’t getting any government funds or charitable donations; in fact, it hasn’t been officially ‘approved’ by the town. But the Yellow House has hosted a steady stream of guests this winter. …

“The number of people without housing in Lamoille County swelled from 22 in 2016 to 64 in 2017, including 34 children, according to an annual survey by the Vermont Coalition to End Homelessness. But the closest shelters were more than an hour away, in Burlington and Vergennes.

“Organizers tried without success for three years to open a permanent shelter in nearby Morrisville. They concluded that it’s easier to beg forgiveness than to ask permission and opened the Yellow House with little public notice.

” ‘It’s a “Let’s just do this” approach. Enough is enough. There simply can’t be families and individuals out in the cold anymore,’ said Rabbi David Fainsilber of the Jewish Community of Greater Stowe. ‘I appreciate all the questions and concerns people may have. And yet, at the end of the day, I personally have to ask myself, Did a family stay out of their car and have a warm place to stay?’

“Organizers such as Fainsilber envisioned Yellow House as a winter-only endeavor. The Hyde Park planning and zoning offices gave the shelter temporary verbal approval before it opened, according to backers, but will spend the coming months mulling over whether to grant official permits. No hearings have been scheduled.

” ‘I’m hoping it’s not a battle. But if it is a battle, I’m committed, because the interfaith community is, too,’ said Sheriff Roger Marcoux Jr., a key backer of the project. …

“Part of the problem is the nature of rural homelessness, according to shelter advocates. In Burlington, the itinerant people who congregate downtown are highly visible. But the homeless in Lamoille County tend to live out of sight in an unheated camp in the woods, or in cars, so residents don’t appreciate the size of the population. …

“In late December, temperatures plummeted to minus-25 degrees, and Rev. Rick Swanson of Saint John’s in the Mountains Episcopal Church heard that people were sleeping in tents in the woods. Swanson opened the doors to his Stowe church. One man came in from the cold and spent several nights sleeping inside, by the altar. …

“Religious leaders reached out to Marcoux, the longtime sheriff, who is elected to his post and enjoys broad discretion in setting program and budget priorities within his jurisdiction. Marcoux wasn’t just cooperative; he offered to host the shelter.

“The Yellow House is part of a complex of abandoned buildings across the street from the Lamoille County Sheriff’s Department in Hyde Park village. …

“To head off any potential community concerns about safety, he pledged on-duty deputies would regularly stop by. …

” ‘I’m in the business of protecting the public, and I feel like I’m doing that,’ Marcoux said. ‘Why are people living in cars when I’ve got a house I’m heating?’ ”

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