Dedicated to transforming the lives of people experiencing homelessness, Good Samaritan Haven (GSH) is more than just a homeless shelter. They have a variety of facilities that provide guests with shelter beds, essential items to meet their basic needs, and a wide range of support services to help them gain employment, apply for benefits, find treatment or locate stable housing. The organization is working to reduce homelessness in Central Vermont while prioritizing that every person is treated with dignity, compassion and respect during their time of need.
In 2019, GSH helped 18 people gain stable housing, served 203 people at their facility, served 11,310 meals, and saw their guests stay an average length of 61 days. We spoke with Heather Tolman, Good Samaritan Haven’s Program Manager, to find out more about their wide variety of programs.
When and how did Good Samaritan Haven get its start?
The Good Samaritan Haven was started by a group of Barre clergy and congregations in 1986. They were responding to a need they saw due to the number of people sleeping on the streets. There was quite a bit of backlash from some community members, but the people who felt strongly about the need for shelter continued to persist, and it was allowed.
How has the organization changed since it first began?
In addition to Good Samaritan Haven in Barre, GSH now oversees two overflow seasonal shelters at Hedding Church in Barre and Bethany Church in Montpelier as well as an emergency shelter in Montpelier offering a total of 73 beds.
Has the problem of homelessness in our community improved or gotten worse in that time?
There are considerably more homeless people now than there were then.
What are some of the most prevalent or widespread causes of homelessness in our community?
Lack of affordable housing and a lack of living wages for many people. Long waitlists to get into housing and a complicated process for those who do not meet eligibility due to past evictions and, in some cases, criminal history. Mental illness and substance abuse are two other primary causes of homelessness in our area. We see many of our clients who are facing one or both of these issues.
In what variety of ways does Good Samaritan Haven care for our homeless population?
First and foremost, Good Samaritan Haven provides emergency shelter to individuals experiencing homelessness. While accessing shelter, our guests have hot meals, the ability to do laundry, and a warm, safe place to sleep. For our guests staying at the main house, we assign them a GSH housing counselor. The housing counselors help our guests to access a variety of community resources, connect with housing opportunities, and to move towards self-sufficiency.
What is life in the shelter like for someone who stays there?
During the winter, our guests return to the shelter at 4 pm. They can make themselves a snack, do chores, take a shower, and watch a movie. Six days a week, we serve dinner at 7 pm. On Fridays, Hedding Methodist Church hosts dinner at their building. Guests stay in one of our dorms, or on a cot in the dining room. At 11 pm, we turn the lights out with the expectation that everyone is quiet. This way, everyone has a chance to get a decent night’s sleep. It is very much a communal living environment, and we strive to make the shelter as comfortable as possible for the 25-30 people typically staying with us.
Can they stay there for an extended period of time?
GSH has a ninety-day program, and each guest is assigned one of our two Housing Counselors upon arrival. They will have regular meetings with the Housing Counselor to identify a plan for moving forward. Usually, guests are assigned tasks designed to help them move toward self-sufficiency. These tasks can be things set up for them by the Housing Counselor, such as going to Credit Counseling at Capstone. Tasks are sometimes things that the Housing Counselor sits down and walks a client through, such as filling out an application for the Barre Housing Authority. Or a task maybe something a guest is expected to do on their own time, like going down to the McFarland Building to get their SNAP benefits straightened out or to apply for a job.
Tell me about the seasonal warming shelters.
GSH has two Warming Shelters: Hedding Church in Barre and Bethany Church in Montpelier. They operate from about November to April and allow GSH to increase its bed capacity during the coldest part of the year. Together they served 112 people last year, seven of which transitioned into stable housing.
What basic needs do you provide to the people you serve?
We offer the things our guests need for daily life in the shelter, such as hygiene items, bedding, socks, and more. One of the major challenges for guests is transportation in our rural area. Most of our guests do not have a car, so they need to access the bus for doctor’s appointments, employment, and social services. GSH is able to offer a limited number of bus passes for guests who have no income.
What type of support services do you provide, such as case management, etc.?
Our Housing Counselors provide case management. We also have a Peer Support Services employee who comes in the morning to help guests complete chores, makes their beds, and learn practical life skills. And we have the Adult Access Clinician from Washington County Mental Health that is available to meet with our guests. The Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness (PATH) Program offers additional assistance to people dealing with mental health problems. The Family Supportive Housing program offers assistance to parents working on family reunification and provides help with housing and other needed support.
On a practical note, GSH also prepares people for transition with our NeST House. Located in Montpelier, it serves a smaller population and is more like apartment living. There is overnight staff, but the guests there are much more self-sufficient. GSH sends guests from the main house in Barre to NeST if they are doing really well and are almost ready to take the next step towards self-sufficiency. For someone who has been chronically homeless, NeST is a great opportunity to change that pattern and take the often scary step toward an apartment of one’s own. In 2019 NeST served 35 guests and three transitioned into stable housing.
How does Good Samaritan Haven get its funding? How can people support the organization and its work?
GSH’s funding comes from the State (Office of Economic Opportunity) and Federal (HUD) funds. We also rely heavily on individual donations and receive much support from local churches and civic groups.
Now through March 1, you can round up your total to the nearest dollar to support the Good Samaritan Haven through the Co-op’s Give Change program. Fill out our opt-in form to be asked at the register to round up your purchase every time you shop.