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New tools implemented to help the homeless

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By JOHN FLOWERS

ADDISON COUNTY — Addison County human services providers are putting the finishing touches on a new DVD, brochure and other material aimed at helping local homeless people find — and keep — affordable housing.

The providers, working under the banner of the Addison County Housing Coalition, have also enlisted the help of Northlands Job Corps students in making a series of wooden human silhouettes that will soon be placed throughout the county to increase public awareness of the plight of the homeless.

Cheryl Mitchell, director of People of Addison County Together (PACT), is spearheading creation of the new brochure titled, “Almost Home: Finding an Affordable Place to Live in Addison County.” The 11-page brochure, in its final draft, will let homeless people know how their incomes play into qualifying for affordable housing; how to overcome bad credit; how to apply for rental housing; and what their rights are as tenants.

Area college students helped create illustrations for the brochure.

“It looks like we will be able to print out about 200 copies for human services agencies,” Mitchell said, adding the brochure could be useful in giving legislators background on future affordable housing lobbying efforts.

Another new arrow in the coalition’s quiver is a training DVD, titled simply “Finding Affordable Housing.” The DVD offers some role-play discussions between counselors and individuals looking for affordable housing.

A copy of the DVD will be given to each social service agency in the county, according to Mitchell.

Those agencies are currently dealing with many clients who are finding it hard to keep up with local rents.

The average fair market rent for a modest, two-bedroom apartment in Vermont was $723 in 2005, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. An Addison County resident needs to earn at least $13.67 per hour to pay that rent and still have enough left over to cover utilities and other basic expenses, according to the Vermont Housing Council.

There are currently 4,000 Vermonters regularly relying on homeless shelters, including 1,000 children. The Vermont Office of Economic Opportunity estimated that 1,443 people were turned away from Vermont homeless shelters between July of 2004 and June of 2005, due to those shelters being full.

In Addison County, many homeless citizens try to make ends meet by rooming with families, friends, or living out of their car during the warmer months.

“I think poverty is really well hidden in Middlebury,” said Laura Morse, housing advocate with the Addison Community Action/Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity. “We really don’t see it publicly.”

That will change later this month, thanks to a project being spearheaded by Northlands Job Corps students, the John Graham Emergency Shelter and Addison County Community Action Group (ACCAG). Northlands students have been busy transforming plywood sheets into the silhouettes of everyday people. Once complete, ACCAG and the John Graham Shelter will provide written profiles of real homeless people in Addison County that will be tagged onto the silhouettes.

Here are two of those stories:

• Connie had just started her new job. She was under a lot of pressure already because her boyfriend was insanely jealous. Then she found out that she was pregnant. Her boyfriend, the baby’s father, beat her so severely that her eye was swollen shut when she came to the shelter. She also now had a broken leg and was forced to quit her new job.

• Andy, an elderly man who suffers from schizophrenia comes to the shelter to cook a meal and take a shower. He has lived outside and bounced from shelter to shelter. He is offered a bed. He is found in the morning sleeping on the kitchen table. He explains that after sleeping on the ground for so many years, he can only sleep on flat surfaces. He moves into a nursing home.

On Oct. 28, Job Corps students and local volunteers will take the dozens of the silhouettes to pre-approved locations throughout the county, including parks, stores, churches, schools and other public venues.

The silhouettes will stay up for several weeks, officials said.

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