The Stone House at 311 North Ave. served as a dorm for Burlington College until February 2016, when the city took possession of it. After the liberal arts school closed abruptly last year “the building was abandoned and subject to vandalism, break-ins and trespassing” over the summer, according to a memo from Parks and Recreation Director Jesse Bridges.
Bridges’ department stepped in and did some preliminary repairs. It has been using the structure for storage, and the police and fire departments have also used it for training.
Now Bridges is proposing that the city lease the property for no charge to the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity to be run as a sober-living home for at least 13 homeless people with high needs.
The city is also enlisting the University of Vermont Medical Center Community Investment Committee, the United Way, the Vermont Community Foundation and Vermont’s Agency of Human Services to provide support services for the new tenants.
In his memo, Bridges says Chittenden County has made progress addressing homelessness in the region but that a tremendous need for temporary housing still exists.
Burlington’s warming shelters remain full, there is a long waitlist for housing vouchers, and the most recent point-in-time survey, conducted late last year, showed 330 homeless people in Chittenden County, according to Bridges’ memo.
At a recent meeting of the Warming Shelter Advisory Board, Bridges learned that “the shelter had guests who possessed housing vouchers but stayed in the shelter because they were unable to secure permanent supportive housing.”
That’s a common situation at several emergency shelters, which creates a bottleneck preventing other people from finding space in the shelter system, according to Bridges.
“This is a rare and wonderful opportunity,” said Jan Demers, executive director of the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity.
“We’d be working with the folks who would live there to go from homelessness to permanent housing,” she added. Her organization is in a good position to do that because of its role as a member of the Chittenden County Homeless Alliance.
“We have the numbers, and we know the people,” Demers said.
The alliance, made up of local nonprofits and government agencies, uses a survey to assess people’s vulnerability if they were to remain homeless. That helps to triage people, through what’s known as the “coordinated entry” program, for space in permanent or transitional housing, Demers said.
Converting the Stone House into transitional housing would require approval from the Board of Finance and the City Council as well as a green light from the Development Review Board. Demers said she’s hopeful people will be living at the Stone House come spring, but said there’s still a lot of moving parts for the project to succeed.
The plan was on the agenda for Monday’s Board of Finance meeting, which was canceled due to weather.
“It’s like everything is moving at once,” Demers said. “We’re repairing the buildings, going through the zoning and raising money all at the same time.”