SEVCA launches special appeal for housing assistance donations

WESTMINSTER — Southeastern Vermont Community Action announced a special appeal to the public for donations to its housing assistance fund, which is used to help homeless families and individuals obtain housing and to keep those at risk of homelessness in their homes.

The anti-poverty agency provides assistance with back rent, first month's rent, security deposits, and utility payments to end or prevent homelessness for 350 to 450 local households per year, but existing funding falls far short of the need.

“Homelessness prevention and re-housing assistance are among our most critical services,” executive director Stephen Geller said in a news release. “SEVCA is one of the few organizations that provide this type of help to families and individuals in crisis. The budget counseling and follow-up services we provide help ensure that those we support are able to stabilize their lives and remain in their housing over the long-term.”

The following statistics demonstrate the extent of the problem and the factors contributing to the homelessness crisis in this area:

• High housing costs are a major factor contributing to homelessness. Vermont has the seventh most expensive housing among non-metro areas in the nation and the sixth highest gap in the nation between what renters actually earn and the hourly wage needed to rent affordably (National Low Income Housing Coalition, 2016).

• More than one in five renters and one in 10 homeowners in this area have “severe housing cost burdens,” paying more than half their income toward housing (Vermont Department of Housing and Community Development, 2015).

• 68 percent of the 350 low-income households surveyed in SEVCA's 2015 Community Assessment reported they had a hard time paying their rent or mortgage, and 40 percent said they were behind in their rent or mortgage payments, a clear indication that they were at risk of homelessness.

• In rural Vermont (outside Chittenden County), the number of homeless people increased by 73 percent between 2010 and 2015, while the number of homeless families with children increased by 168 percent (HUD Point-in-Time survey, 2010-15).

• 230 people in Windham and Windsor counties were homeless on a given night in January, about a third of whom were children or young adults (HUD Point-in-Time survey, 2016). About half of the households were homeless for the first time, and about 20 percent were chronically homeless.

In response to the increasing incidence of homelessness over the past several years, SEVCA sought additional resources to address the problem.

Between 2011 and 2015, additional public and private funding raised by the organization resulted in a 70 percent increase in housing assistance provided. SEVCA aims to continue to increase its fundraising efforts in this area to ensure the strongest possible local response to ending homelessness.

“Funds raised through this appeal will be used exclusively to provide direct assistance to households at risk of, or experiencing, homelessness,” said SEVCA's Family Service Director Pat Burke. “These funds are especially important because they will give us the flexibility to meet the complex needs of those who might not qualify for help from some of our more restrictive funding sources but who are still in serious crisis.”

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