Photograph by Macaulay Lerman
Audio by Vermont Folklife
1. "They closed down all the homeless shelters and moved everyone into hotels." (2:34)
So during the, like, the height of the pandemic, they closed down all of the homeless shelters here, congregate-setting homeless shelters, and moved everyone into hotels. And the Holiday Inn was Vermont's largest homeless shelter. It became that, the Holiday Inn on Dorset and--like Dorset and Williston Road. And so I started working there and I loved it. It was also fairly like, starting it was definitely kind of like a system shock as well, I guess. Because, you know, meeting all of these folks that are there and they are, you know, they were literally homeless, have nowhere else to go. And so now the state and fed--like the state and federal government are like, able to pay for their stay, which is great. But there is a timeline on it as well.
And then in June, the state basically went back to basics with their hotel program. And when that was supposed to take effect July 1st, it was estimated that 600, I believe it was like, 600 households across Vermont were going to be kicked out of the motel system and on the streets. And the Holiday Inn was closing also because they were going to do demolition. So there was like, it was like a very full stop there. So, folks that had disabilities or the three other qualifying categories, they were able to be moved to other participating hotels. But everyone had to be out. And Paul, with some like, pretty intense advocating on the Holiday Inn, the director, Dave Gunderson, with some pretty strong abdication on his part, a job was basically created for Todd and I to continue to work with these folks and try and help them, because obviously, they were receiving a lot more at the Holiday Inn than just housing. You know, we had folks working 24-7 there. And so it was a lot of like, mental health support, which is the primary thing affecting folks that are homeless, right, is a lot of mental health. Just there needs to be more support. So this program was created to basically help folks transition from that because we're like, "okay, there's going to be a lot of people. There's going to be a lot of need."
2. "I don't think you can be in this job...if you don't have empathy." (:44)
So that's, I mean, that's the main thing, right? like, I don't think you can be in this job or really in this profession and be successful if you don't have empathy. Because, you know, sympathy is pity. You know, it is. And it's like, empathy is being like, “I see you, I feel you. I am here with you.” And even if I've never personally experienced that, like I have the ability to, you know, say like, oh, not, like, poor you, but yeah, that sucks. And then, you know, let's figure out a way out of it. So empathy feels like also action based, whereas sympathy feels really just bystander-effect almost of like, I'll pray for you. Okay, cool.
3. "Folks need phones to connect to these other services." (1:11)
We have a discretionary fund, which is really great. And the primary thing that our money has been going to recently is phones. You know, because if you think about just for standard population, phones are a gateway to everything, they're a lifeline. And that's no different for folks that are homeless. So folks need phones to connect to these other services. And from my current setup knowledge, I don't know any other program that is able to purchase phones for folks. Doesn't really have kind of like funding available because they're not cheap. I mean, it's $30 for a base phone and then to buy them a month of minutes is $25. So it's like that's not just a one time deal. And then the hope is that folks will then either A, have the money to buy them more minutes after that one month, or B, they follow our advice and sign up for a Q-Link SIM card, which is from the government. Kind of annoying to sign up for, but then you have free minutes for a bazillion years or whatever. So that's something that a lot of our money has gone to.