In our words, in our community
Photograph by Macaulay Lerman
Audio by Vermont Folklife
1. "You find an encampment, you loudly proclaim 'Outreach! Outreach! Anybody here?'" (2:15)
So our official title is--what's our official title? "Community Outreach and Resource Advocacy Program." So our job is really to connect people to resources. So we don't get you housing, but we do the paperwork so you can get somebody who gets you the housing. And by "get housing," I mean trying for years to get you housing because there is no housing in Vermont. Or, you know, we're not doctors, but we can get you a doctor's appointment; and we're not this and that, but we can connect you to the people who do do that. So that's basically our job, is to connect people to services, whether it's employment or housing, obviously is huge. The population we're working with is generally people who are literally homeless. So we are, you know, giving out food and we're getting people IDs, you know, license, non-driver's ID, birth certificates, Social Security card, like helping with that. In the summer, we would drive around and just look for encampments, campsites, we'd hike through swamps and over railroad tracks and fields and woods and looking for anybody that needs anything. And, you know, you find an encampment, you loudly proclaim "Outreach! Outreach! Anybody here?" just to make sure that they know who you are and why you're there and they might come and talk to you. They might not. Maybe there's nobody there. Or maybe it's an abandoned site. Maybe it's a bunch of people are there and sometimes they're happy to talk to you, sometimes they're not happy to talk to you. But, you know, always bring food. Bring your business card with a phone number and basically ask them what they need and if it's something we can help with, we'll help them with it. If it's not we say, "Well maybe we know who can." We also, these days, tend to get more referrals because people--like when we started, nobody knew who we were and we didn't know who we were and what we were doing. But now that we kind of have a pattern, a rhythm set, you know, people will call CVOEO and say, "Hey, I saw a tent over here, can you guys go check it out". And we'll say "Yeah we'll go check it out." That's kind of what we do.
2. "My first thought is 'how can I make this work'?" (1:00)
Well, my brain does not like to say "no" to things. So whenever someone asks me to do something, usually the answer is "yes." And then my wife tells me that I'm doing way too many things and I'm going to die. And my wife is right. But usually my first thought is, "How can I make this work?" You know, what do I have to do, or wiggle or shift around so that I can do the thing. And I don't know, I mean, it just seems like the work is really important. I think I'm good at it and I like doing it. It is the most difficult thing I've ever done, for sure. But I don't know, it's fulfilling. I like helping people. I like the organization. I like my coworkers. And when they said that Todd and Taylor were the other team members I was like, "Well then, whatever they're doing, sign me up."
3. "Before I started doing this, I definitely felt uncomfortable..." (1:00)
I mean, I'm definitely more trained, even off the clock, to like look for tents or an awning where there's a sleeping bag or, you know. I mean, I was really, like, keeping an eye out for that sort of thing. I feel like what I see that other people don't see is, like, I'll just make up a name here, it was like, "Oh, hey, there's Bill. Hey, Bill." He's on the square holding a sign. "Good to see you. How are you? Getting anything to eat today? Oh, great, " you know? Whereas other people just see what they want to see or, you know, like that. So I think I do--and before I started doing this, I certainly would feel uncomfortable walking down Church Street at night with 20 people that looked like maybe I didn't want to associate, you know, I mean? Like, "Are they going to bother me? Are they going to?" They look like they're homeless, they look like they're on drugs. They look like all these things. You know, they are homeless and they are on drugs, and they're also people and they're fine, you know? And now I can walk down and feel pretty comfortable and safe most of the time.