It was a little chilly Friday morning as about 45 people walked from Morrisville’s Northgate Plaza to Oxbow Park and back in support of the Lamoille Community House, the warming shelter in Hyde Park.
The chill was a reminder that, although Vermont’s warming shelters closed Monday, homeless people still face tough choices about where to lay their heads at night.
“It’s not exceptionally warm out,” observed Sherry Marcellino, a Lamoille Community House board member.
She encouraged people to reflect on what it would be like, “knowing there’s no place to go to when it gets dark out. Other states might have the luxury of at least having 60-degree weather right now, but that’s just not the case here.”
The Lamoille Community House is in its second year. It was founded last year when the Rev. Rick Swanson of St. John’s in the Mountains Episcopal Church in Stowe realized people had no place to go during the frightful cold of last winter, so he opened his church’s doors to them.
Other community leaders, including Lamoille County Sheriff Roger Marcoux and local businessman Howard Manosh, stepped up to help, and in February, the Lamoille Community House found its permanent home at 103 Main St. in Hyde Park.
This year, it served 38 people, said Jacquie Mauer, shelter manager. The shelter was open 124 nights, from Dec. 12 to Monday, April 15. Beds at the shelter were slept in 1,317 times in those 124 nights, Mauer said, up from 696 last year.
The shelter has 12 beds and two overflow cots.
It’s primarily funded through a $71,000 grant from the state Office for Economic Opportunity, plus private donations of money and supplies, including bedding and toiletries.
Homeless visibility walk
When the marchers reached Oxbow Park last Friday, they observed a moment of silence for the estimated 55 to 65 families in Lamoille County that have no permanent housing.
“It’s not easy waking up every morning not knowing what was going to happen and then having to be plunged into mainstreaming and pretending as though it never existed. Half the battle is after you get housed,” Marcellino said.
She says Lamoille County was the last Vermont county with a warming shelter.
Part of the battle was raising awareness, and Marcellino thanked the crowd for helping bring visibility to the issue.
“When we think about something like homelessness, it can seem so overwhelming,” said Greg Stefanski, executive director of Laraway Youth & Family Services.
“Last year, there was a lot of uncertainty. … Now, we have a shelter in our community,” Stefanski said.
“The people that I’ve met at the shelter are amazing people,” Mauer told the crowd. “… They are fully worthwhile of our attention. Too often, people who are homeless get stigmatized, and we think that it’s their fault, and we put the blame on them, and we forget to recognize their humanity and maybe their struggles that led them” to where they are.
She thinks a warming shelter is the best way to help others.
Lamoille Community House will reopen next winter.