Life & Culture

Vermont buttons up against upcoming freeze, offers shelter to people who need it

A pedestrian braves the cold in St. Johnsbury last January. Minus 20 degrees is likely in parts of the state this weekend, and shelters and warming centers plan to be open in many communities. File photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Brutal cold this Friday and Saturday will be tough on anybody who ventures outside, but in particular, community organizations are deeply worried about unhoused Vermonters.

“It is incomprehensible for anyone to be sleeping outside at 20 below,” said Alison Calderara, chief of programs and advancement at Capstone Community Action. “It does take on an increasing worry to make sure that we are doing everything in our power to get someone safely housed.”

The National Weather Service has warned of extreme cold and dangerous wind chills statewide over the two-day period, which has Capstone and other community organizations around Vermont ramping up to save lives.

In Montpelier, overnight temperatures are expected to drop to -15 degrees Friday night and -18 Saturday night. Lows in Burlington are predicted to plummet to -13 both nights. The story is much the same around the state, with double-digit-below temperatures expected in Brattleboro, Bennington, Rutland and St. Johnsbury.

Capstone, a community action agency that serves Lamoille, Orange and Washington counties, is mobilizing to direct Vermonters to places where they can stay warm and to provide heat sources for their homes. 

While Capstone does not have its own shelters, it refers people to shelters in the area, such as the Good Samaritan Haven in Barre, Calderara said. It also helps people to find transportation to an available place to stay, which can include hotel rooms provided by the state Economic Services Division. 

Capstone and similar organizations offer a crisis line that people can call if they run out of fuel or if their furnace dies and they cannot afford a repair. 

Additionally, they provide gas and grocery cards, which can be vital in ensuring that people stay safe, Calderara said. 

In all, five community action agencies blanket the state:

Capstone Community Action serves all towns of Washington, Orange and Lamoille counties, plus the towns of Granville and Hancock in Addison County; Pittsfield in Rutland County; and Barnard, Bethel, Rochester, Royalton, Sharon and Stockbridge in Windsor County;

Northeast Kingdom Community Action serves Orleans, Essex, and Caledonia counties:

Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity serves residents of Addison (except Granville and Hancock), Chittenden, Franklin and Grand Isle counties;

Southeastern Vermont Community Action serves residents of Windham and Windsor counties, except for Barnard, Bethel, Rochester, Royalton, Sharon and Stockbridge in Windsor County:

BROC Community Action serves all of Rutland and Bennington counties.

Burlington gears up

The Burlington-based Committee on Temporary Shelter, the largest provider of services for unhoused persons in the state, will expand the hours of its overnight shelter and daystation to protect people from the cold. 

The organization has one shelter for single individuals, known as the Waystation, which can hold up to 36 people, and its Main Street Family Shelter can hold up to 15 families. It also operates the Daystation, located within walking distance of the other two shelters in downtown Burlington; it’s a drop-in center that provides meals, showers, laundry and bunk rooms. 

During the extreme cold, Daystation hours will be extended so it will open at 8 a.m., while the overnight shelters will open in the afternoon, earlier than usual, so there is no downtime in which people are left out in the cold. 

The Committee on Temporary Shelter, generally known as COTS, will also offer some overflow overnight housing at the Waystation. 

“We can take people who may drop in in the middle of the night because it’s so cold, or they may come to us at some point in the evening,” said Jonathan Farrell, the COTS executive director. 

Farrell said the organization will also distribute EMPWR coats — coats that turn into sleeping bags in emergencies — to people who show up at its doors.

“It’s not a fix, but, man, it is going to get cold; this could be a lifeline for somebody,” he said.

Also in Burlington, an “extreme cold weather center” is being opened at the city’s Miller Center Thursday through Saturday from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m., and the city-supported day warming shelter operated by the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity will extend its hours to Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to noon.

Shelters and warming centers

Vermont Emergency Management has compiled a full list of temporary shelters and warming centers open across the state. The list does not include the shelters that normally operate in many locations.

These centers offer “an absolutely vital safety net during times like this,” Calderara said.

Gov. Phil Scott’s office issued a warning about the incoming extreme cold. 

“Extreme cold weather is nothing new for most Vermonters, but it’s important to know the resources available to be prepared if needed,” the governor said in a statement.

Scott’s warning included recommendations Vermonters can take to protect themselves from the weather:

  • Check that your neighbors have heat.
  • Limit outdoor activities.
  • Make sure that heating fuel supplies are stocked up and that heat sources are venting properly. 
  • If you plan to travel, load extra blankets into your car.
  • Before going outside, cover your hands and mouth.
  • Be aware of the symptoms of frostbite and hypothermia. 

Vermont State Police are planning “freeze patrols” all weekend, patrolling highways during the overnight hours to help stranded motorists.

Correction: The COTS overflow overnight housing will be at the Waystation.

Maggie Reynolds

About Maggie

Maggie is a junior at Middlebury College studying history and political science. She previously interned as an arts & culture reporter for Seven Days and as a news reporter for the Daily Gazette in Schenectady, N.Y. Maggie is also the Senior Local Section Editor for the Middlebury Campus.


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