Health

Burlington daytime shelter moves from downtown to Old North End

The Community Resource Center, which offers people without housing a place to go during the day, is set to move a mile north to Feeding Chittenden, shown above in Burlington’s Old North End. Photo by Natalie Williams/VTDigger

A daytime shelter for people experiencing homelessness in Burlington is slated to move from downtown to the Old North End next week, filling what could have been a gap in social services.

The Community Resource Center offers people without housing a place to go during the day, when overnight shelters are closed. It was previously located one block from City Hall at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 782 on South Winooski Avenue; it’s set to move a mile north to Feeding Chittenden — formerly known as the Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf — on May 9.

The food shelf is intended as only a temporary home for the center, while the city works to establish its pod community on Elmwood Ave. If that project gets approved and constructed, officials say, the Community Resource Center would move there.

The pod community is expected to launch in early to mid-August, provided it gets a permit from the Burlington Development Review Board, said Brian Pine, the city’s director of community and economic development. That timetable is later than the July 1 date for which officials initially aimed.

The Community Resource Center, sponsored by the city and operated by the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity, poses two major benefits, Pine said. For the 65 to 100 visitors who stop by on a given day, it can provide access to meals, computers and a shield from the elements.

But it also functions as a “relief valve” for downtown businesses, which can experience adverse impacts when people don’t have a place to go during the day, Pine said.

“It’s not an ideal location for folks to congregate on, for instance, the (Church Street) Marketplace or on the sidewalk somewhere,” Pine said. “Businesses (see) folks gathered in their vestibules, laying down in their doorways — people looking for a place to just pass some time during the day.”

The center launched in fall 2020 as a service available during the colder months. But this year, at the urging of Mayor Miro Weinberger, city councilors allocated $1 million to keep the center operating year-round.

But while the city set aside enough cash to sustain the service, its lease with the VFW post ran only through April. As a result, officials expected there to be no Community Resource Center between May and late summer, when the pod community opens.

In the past few weeks, however, the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity volunteered Feeding Chittenden — which it also manages — as a location for the center.

The Feeding Chittenden building in Burlington’s Old North End on Thursday, April 28. Photo by Natalie Williams/VTDigger

“People are really relying on a lot of our services,” said Paul Dragon, the organization’s executive director, “so we didn’t want to leave the gap there.”

When the resource center reopens — which is set for May 9 — the food shelf will serve in-person meals for the first time since before the pandemic, Pine said. The meals previously served at the resource center were prepared at Feeding Chittenden.

The city will not have to pay rent while the resource center is at Feeding Chittenden, Dragon said. Still, Pine said that they won’t leave officials with a surplus, since the organization is beefing up its staffing at the resource center.

The staffing additions are in part “to ensure that it’s a safe, positive, respectful experience and environment,” Pine told VTDigger.

One downside of the new location is that it’s smaller than the center’s previous site, Dragon said, and farther from downtown.

“The VFW was located near City Hall Park, right downtown,” Dragon told VTDigger. “This one… it’s a little further away, a little bit more of a walk for people who are congregating down there.”

Still, Dragon said, the Old North End location is near other social service providers, such as the Community Health Centers of Burlington’s headquarters. Dragon’s organization also operates a mobile van that travels around the city to aid people where they are.

Despite the distance, Dragon said he’s confident people will seek out the resource center for a sense of community, along with the meals and other services it provides.

“I think that people don’t, unfortunately, have the other social connections, and so the resource center really has become something important in their lives,” he said, noting that two couples who met at the shelter have gotten married since its founding .

Pine agreed with Dragon, saying he has heard “incredible stories” about people who relied on the shelter’s services.

“In spite of facing just daunting challenges, (they) were able to have enough hope and sense that there’s a future, and maybe a brighter future, by the support that they felt being at the Community Resource Center,” Pine said.

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