Middlebury homeless shelter getting more paid staff

June 09, 2022

By John Flowers, Addison Independent

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury’s Charter House Emergency Shelter at 27 North Pleasant St. is expanding its services and transitioning from a mostly volunteer-driven organization to a professional one, with paid staff.

“We’ve been working toward this model for the past 18 months,” Emergency Shelter Director Heidi Lacey said. “It feels like we’ve grown up.”

The nonprofit Charter House Coalition (CHC) in 2005 established a “warming shelter” that provided food and overnight lodging to people in need. As demand grew, so did Charter House services. It officially pivoted from a warming shelter to an emergency shelter a few years ago, adding hours and wraparound services — such as access to counseling and  job-search assistance — to help clients become self-sufficient.

More hours and services have meant the need for more paid, trained staff. The shelter functioned with three paid staff and a cadre of volunteers as a warming shelter. Now, as an emergency shelter, it operates with 7.25 full-time-equivalent paid staff.

Come July, the shelter will have nine FTEs, according to Lacey.

Why the increase in salaried workers? Lacey explained that as an emergency shelter, Charter House is now operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so shifts need to be filled. The employee roster includes two overnight supervisors, three case managers and daytime shelter staff — along with Lacey and a Director of Shelter Operations Kris Diehl.

During the pandemic Charter House began to bring in case managers to help guests access the myriad services — such as Supplemental Social Security, child care and veterans’ benefits — to help pave their road to independence.

Adding paid staff has meant increasing the shelter budget, which is pegged for $820,000 for fiscal year 2023. With that in mind, shelter leaders aggressively applied for grants to help offset the budget hike, including:

  • $299,000 through the 2022-23 Housing Opportunity Grant program, money that will help defray the costs of shelter staff and operations. The organization learned on Tuesday it will receive what it asked for — plus an additional sum to help divert households from needing emergency shelter — for a $328,000 award, according to Lacey.
  • $114,000 through the 2022-23 Vermont Emergency Rental Assistance Program, to help low-income tenets keep their apartments and thus not require shelter services. The shelter will receive $107,000 through the program, which is pretty good, given the state received $27 million in requests for a total of $15 million available.

“(Granting agencies) certainly are recognizing increased costs across the state, and agree the need assessments are accurate — not just in Addison County, but throughout Vermont,” Lacey said. “COVID brought forth many people who are in dire straits.”

Lacey stressed that while the recent success with grant awards has been nice, donors remain critical to the emergency shelter’s survival. Donations and other revenue sources will need to cover more than half of next year’s $820,000 spending plan.

“We’ll be partially funded by the state, but not completely funded,” she said. “So we’ll continue to do the work to raise money in other ways.”

Part of the CHC’s fundraising strategy calls for appealing to all 23 Addison County communities for a portion of their federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding. Middlebury is currently setting up a process by which to decide uses for its $2.62 million ARPA award (see story on Page 1A).

While paid staff are now responsible for shelter operations, volunteers remain the heart and soul of the CHC’s community meals program. The Charter House’s full-service kitchen provides a home-cooked meal every day of the week for anyone who wants one, as well as daily meals to shelter guests. The CHC kitchen was turning out 35,000 meals a year prior to the pandemic. In 2020 and 2021, that figure grew to 90,000 and 100,600 meals, respectively — including delivery of more than 250 meals each day to homeless individuals staying at area hotels.

Volunteers are still welcome to assist shelter guests, through mentoring and encouragement. That might include accompanying a guest to a local bank to open up a checking account, or dispensing advice on how to be a good tenant.

Anyone able to donate to the Charter House Emergency Shelter may log on to chcvt.org.

Lacey is pleased with how far the shelter has come, and about where it’s headed.

“Addison County residents and those passing through deserve the level of professionalism that I believe we are now able to provide,” she said.