Panel to address myths, realities of homelessness

Groundworks, <i>The Commons</i> host Voices Live! event on Nov. 6

BRATTLEBORO — It takes a village to end homelessness.

Ensuring that the whole Brattleboro community is housed, fed, and safe will take system-wide solutions.

“It will be a community solved problem and not one agency coming to solve it,” said Changeworks co-chair Steve West.

Changeworks is the advocacy and action program within the Groundworks Collaborative, the collaborative launched earlier this year after the merger of Morningside Shelter and the Brattleboro Area Drop In Center.

West added that income inequality also puts pressure on people, causing additional struggles for neighbors.

This is an intelligent and loving community, West said. Its members have many skills, awarenesses, experiences, and opinions that could possibly “stem the flow of constant economic brutality we all experience.”

He said he hopes the community will share these experiences, opinions, skills, and awarenesses at a special event on Nov. 6.

The Groundworks Collaborative in partnership with The Commons is presenting “Voices Live! Myths and Realities of Homelessness,” at the First Baptist Church, 190 Main St.

Doors open at 5 p.m. for networking. The panel discussion starts at 6 p.m.

West will emcee the event. Olga Peters, senior staff reporter at The Commons, will moderate the discussion.

Panelists include Kevin Reagan, a Groundworks client, Sen. Becca Balint, D-Windham, Brattleboro Housing Partnership Executive Director Chris Hart, and Josh Davis, executive director of Groundworks.

The Nov. 6 event is a continuation of community discussions from earlier this year hosted by The Works Bakery Cafe owner Richard French.

French and Davis will provide an update on the actions or programs that grew out of the community discussions at Voices Live!

At Voices Live! Myths and Realities of Homelessness, participants will have the opportunity to get involved in future projects or programs.

Above all, West said, Changeworks hopes to gather ideas and suggestions, and forge new relationships throughout the evening. All thoughts, opinions, and suggestions are welcome, he said.

Multiple myths exist around what it means to be homeless, West said.

An easy assumption is that all homeless people live on the street.

Staff at Groundworks have found many households live in a whole spectrum of insecure housing situations. These situations can include scrambling to pay rent every month, cutting back on food to pay rent, couch surfing, shifting among relatives' houses, and living in hotels.

Another common myth for the area is that since Brattleboro has so many services, homeless people move here to take advantage of the programs.

Again, Groundworks staff find that most of the people moving through their programs have ties to the area.

“Homelessness is not glamorous,” said Changeworks program member Jeanne Deyo.

Nov. 6 will mark Changeworks' first public event. The program looks to host quarterly events about issues such as homelessness, community outreach, and social change.

West noted the significance of holding Voices Live! at the First Baptist Church.

The church's congregation has generously supported the work of agencies like the former Drop In Center and now Groundworks, he said. The Church has housed the Seasonal Overflow Shelter for nine years.

The shelter will re-open for the 2015-16 winter season in November before moving to a new location next year.

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