Throughout its 50 years, Capstone has been the organization where people turn to get their feet back under them when events knock them off their feet. The “housing first” philosophy that is now a best practice emphasizes that securing permanent housing is the first step in stabilizing an individual’s life.
This month, Linda Anderson, Capstone’s manager in Randolph, led an observation of National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day during the winter solstice on Dec. 21 — the longest night of the year. Along with other gatherings around the country, the event was to raise awareness of the tragic impact of homelessness on individuals, families and communities; to remember those who have died as a result of being homeless; and to help everyone understand that homelessness is a public health issue that impacts everyone.
People who are homeless are at greater risk of infectious and chronic illness, poor mental health, and substance abuse. They often wind up in emergency rooms with severe situations that could have been remedied had they had adequate medical care and shelter. The homeless are more often victims of violence and they have a mortality rate four to nine times higher than those who are not homeless. Children are a rapidly increasing part of the homeless population and homelessness is truly traumatic on children and their development. Thus, homeless families and individuals face enormous challenges just to stay alive with little time to improve their situation. We as a society bear the cost in many forms, but most importantly the loss of their potential and far too frequently, their lives.
So, why is there such a housing crisis? Well, in Washington County, the rental housing vacancy rate is about 1.5 percent. This is for all rental housing; not just affordable housing. And to afford an apartment now, the hourly wage needed to pay out the recommended 30 percent of income for housing is $15.25 for a one-bedroom apartment and $18.90 for a two-bedroom apartment. With a minimum wage of $9.60 per hour, many Vermonters pay a disproportionate amount toward their housing and many can’t even find affordable housing. It is even harder for folks with disabilities. The average monthly amount for SSI is $785; the average cost for a one bedroom apartment in Washington County is $728.
At Capstone, our staff is working hard to ensure that everyone has a roof over their heads. In 2015, 1,704 community members who faced homelessness were able to find or hold onto permanent housing through the dedicated efforts of our staff.
We certainly cannot end homelessness on our own.
Even with our best efforts, last year the state of Vermont paid for temporary housing (hotel units) in Barre alone for 140 families with 243 children — 41 of them under 6 years old — and another 173 single people.