by Joshua Jerome
BARRE — Right around this time of year a joyous energy permeates the community as we celebrate the holidays with friends, family and colleagues. Also as we reflect on the past and anticipate the opportunities that lie ahead of us in a new year. We are all grateful for different things and to some, something as trivial as a roof over our heads is actually very important. For 30 years, the Good Samaritan Haven has been providing services to the homeless population and I recently sat down with the Haven’s executive director, Brooke Jenkins, to talk about how important the shelter is for Central Vermont.
Good Samaritan Haven serves the tri-county area of Lamoille, Orange and Washington as they are the only emergency shelter for the area’s homeless community. The shelter is located in downtown Barre and provides shelter for 30 individuals; 19 males and 11 females. They also have a seasonal overflow facility that operates from November to April every year that accommodates an additional 14 individuals and is supported by the State of Vermont. The work of Good Samaritan Haven is dependent on four full-time and eight part-time employees with a lot of community volunteers to help support all of their services.
The services provided include a hot meal, and almost every meal provided to the 44 individuals every evening is prepared by a volunteer from the community. Individuals can do laundry and are provided with clothing, toiletries and some transportation. The shelter does not operate 24 hours a day, as they are regulated to only operate between the hours of 6:30 p.m. and 7 a.m. While someone is staying at the shelter, caseworkers provide nurturing support by helping individuals find employment, acquire transportation and other basic needs like getting a haircut, while identifying permanent housing that the individual can move into.
Individuals who utilize these services have a range of challenges from mental health, domestic abuse and substance abuse. Some are veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Typically, half of the guests at the shelter are employed and are working to save money to afford their own home. Some are on fixed incomes or have incurred a debilitating financial event in their life and just need a break and some genuine support. “This is really challenging work, but very rewarding,” Jenkins said. Brooke also talked about a new pilot Family Supportive Housing Program that is a joint private/public initiative to help end child and family homelessness by 2020.
The pilot project is led by the Family Center of Washington County, in collaboration with Downstreet Housing and Community Development, Heney Real Estate, and Good Samaritan Haven itself. The program looks to provide intensive case management services to families with children. The collaborative effort will provide an additional 12–15 units of stable, permanent housing to homeless families. This pilot program is an innovative approach to help families in transition that involves affordable housing, rental subsidy and personal support in decision making.
In January, each year there is a national census taken on homelessness. Last year there were approximately 120 individuals who were homeless in this area on that one specific day when the census was taken. Every one of those individuals has a story as to why they are where they are just like you or me and because of the work of Good Samaritan Haven, homeless people have a chance to write a new chapter that is inclusive and nurturing and life-changing. If you would like to be part of that new story, please give The Haven a call at 479-2294 or go to their website at goodsamaritanhaven.org.