The University of Vermont's Independent Voice Since 1883

The Vermont Cynic

The University of Vermont's Independent Voice Since 1883

The Vermont Cynic

The University of Vermont's Independent Voice Since 1883

The Vermont Cynic

The Burlington housing crisis: assisting those who have been affected

Maya Goldie
COTS operates as a year-round shelter in the Burlington area.

Most Burlington residents are familiar with the difficulty of the housing market, especially in recent years. 

While for students this is typically a matter of affordable rent and a race to find a liveable space, many other citizens of Burlington experience housing limitations to a much higher degree. 

Partially due to expensive housing and the influx of students dominating the market, the percentage of homeless individuals and families is rising greatly, which has prompted a city-wide effort to combat this multifaceted issue, said Rebekah Mott, director of development and communication at the Committee on Temporary Shelter. 

“There’s no one face of homelessness and so there’s no one cause,” Mott said. “But ultimately there are a lot of broken systems right now and that’s why we’re seeing such a rise in homelessness.” 

In Burlington, the vacancy rate of rentals is about .05%, which is unheard of compared to a typical, healthy rate of five percent. The units that are available are extremely expensive, Mott said.

COTS was founded with the intent of keeping people safe and protected at night during the cold winter months. It has now expanded to operate a year-round shelter, two separate family shelters and daytime/nighttime shelters for when temperatures are extreme, Mott said. 

“Anybody that comes to us can access connections to other resources in the community—mental health/physical health. Our housing navigators help people get connected with benefits they might not know they’re eligible for, help them make a housing plan [and] work towards sustainable permanent housing,” Mott said.

COTS operates over one hundred units of permanent, deeply affordable housing for people who have previously experienced homelessness, Mott said. 

Mott spoke to the impact that UVM students can have on the organization both through fundraising and volunteer work. The daytime shelter serves a daily lunch, operated by volunteers, and COTS is really in need of people to cook and serve the food, Mott said.

It’s kind of a big ask to cook for about 60 people, but when people band together and everyone does one element of the meal, that can be a fun thing to do, Mott said. 

“We have our annual ‘phone-a-thon’ coming up in November,” Mott said. “[Volunteers] just make calls to people who have supported us in the past and ask if they’d like to support us this year.”

COTS is funded primarily through private donations, Mott said. This funding will keep the organization running throughout the year and will also go towards the construction of a new housing building specifically for families with children. 

Another organization, Directing through Recreation, Education, Adventure and Mentoring, aims to play a role in closing the opportunity gap by providing high quality mentoring for youths who live in affordable housing communities, said Nolan Benoit, youth services manager for DREAM’s Guided Mentoring program. 

DREAM’s mission is to build communities of families and college students that empower children from low income neighborhoods to recognize their options, make informed decisions and achieve their dreams according to their website. 

Benoit said that both the mentors and mentees build a great bond and have lots of fun while doing different activities together.  

“The group of college kids will take the group of mentees, the youth, and do a mixture of intentional small group time as well as one-on-one mentoring,” Benoit said. 

There are five different chapters at UVM, working in multiple different affordable housing communities. Volunteers could join any of those chapters, Benoit said. Each chapter is its own little family. 

“Our goal is to have a one-to-one ratio [of mentors and mentees]. We have about one hundred and fifty youths in our program and currently have probably a little bit closer to one hundred to one hundred [and] twenty mentors,” Benoit said. 

A fundraiser and some sort of bigger trip with each of the communities will occur at the end of the semester, Benoit added. 

“Students are not always able to donate, which is understandable, but volunteering, helping us raise awareness about the issues, asking questions about the root causes and solutions is super helpful,” Mott said. 

UVM students are a really integral part of our community and we are always in need of support through volunteers, Mott said. 

Interested in volunteering with COTS? Visit this form.

Interested in becoming a DREAM mentor? Visit this form. 

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