The Committee on Temporary Shelter (COTS), in partnership with the Vermont Agency of Human Services and other local groups, opened a 40-bed Winter Warming Shelter on Nov. 3 in downtown Burlington.
The winter-only emergency shelter will operate 6 p.m.-7 a.m., seven nights a week, through March 31, 2016, as a more effective and less costly alternative to the previous system of motel vouchers.
“This shelter will be an ongoing resource each winter to ensure there is a safe, warm refuge during the harshest months,” said Rita Markley, COTS executive director.
This new winter refuge is being launched to provide a safe place for people who are homeless, reduce the expensive use of overflow motels, and to redirect any savings toward prevention and long-term housing.
The seasonal warming shelter is funded by the Vermont Agency of Human Services and through charitable contributions.
“The COTS Winter Warming Shelter is an excellent example of community partner collaboration,” said DCF Commissioner Ken Schatz. “We deeply appreciate COTS and the support of the City of Burlington, the UVM Medical Center, United Way, and the housing advocates and providers of Chittenden County for helping us make this important service happen.”
The new Winter Warming Shelter, located at 179 S. Winooski Ave., operates in addition to the COTS’ year-round emergency shelter – the Waystation – that provides 36 program shelter beds, 365 nights a year.
The seasonal shelter is staffed by well-trained professionals and volunteers. Staffing includes COTS shelter staff, per diem nurses, and a professional security company that monitors interior and exterior perimeters from 6 p.m. to midnight. More than 30 volunteers also plan to donate their time to help at the shelter.
Volunteers and staff received trainings on CPR, first aid, de-escalation, intake and data collection, motivational interviewing, and other services.
In addition to collaboration with the City of Burlington and downtown business community, COTS is working closely with the Burlington District Office of Economic Services Division on referrals; 211 is advised daily on the availability of bed for after-hours calls. COTS has partnered with the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity (CVOEO), Howard Center, Spectrum, and Safe Harbor Health Center on logistics, planning and services. Additionally, an advisory committee includes the Mayor’s Office, Howard Center, Church Street Marketplace, Burlington Police Department, Champlain Housing Trust, and United Way of Chittenden County.
The University of Vermont Medical Center provides bed linens and laundering services, as well as first aid supplies. Additional bunk beds and mattresses were provided by Saint Michael’s College.
“Congratulations to COTS, the other members of the Continuum of Care, and all involved in opening a permanent, seasonal, low-barrier warming shelter,” said Mayor Miro Weinberger. “This shelter addresses a long-standing, critical gap in our community’s safety net, providing protection and support to our most vulnerable as we committed to both in the City’s Housing Action Plan and the 2015 State of the City.”
CVOEO operated a trial 20-bed winter warming shelter in the former Ethan Allen Club in February, March and April. This effort served as a prototype for this year’s shelter run by COTS. Of the individuals who stayed in that pilot shelter, 14 people found employment, 10 people moved into transitional or permanent housing, and six people entered treatment. The shelter also reduced emergency room costs at the UVM Medical Center.