The purchase realizes Mayor Weinberger’s long-held goal of establishing a year-round low-barrier facility for Burlington
Burlington, VT – ANEW Place today announced the purchase of the Champlain Inn at 165 Shelburne Road, and its plans to transform the space to provide temporary housing for those in our community who are experiencing homelessness. The Inn will fill the void left by the closing of the low-barrier shelter on South Winooski Ave, and realize the goal of establishing a year-round low-barrier option in Burlington that Mayor Miro Weinberger articulated in his 2017 State of the City and has budgeted local funds for in recent budget cycles. The City actively worked to support ANEW Place’s efforts through technical assistance, an emergency resolution, and funding for ongoing operations, and by fully backing and advocating for Covid-emergency funds to be used for this project.
At the Inn, there will be space for up to 50 people experiencing homelessness to access shelter in a way that is Covid-safe and available throughout the year. ANEW Place will provide Inn guests with onsite services, including case managers and assistance with finding permanent housing.
“ANEW Place is excited for the opportunity to purchase and reimagine the Champlain Inn,” said Kevin Pounds, Director of ANEW Place “Thank you to the Vermont Housing & Conservation Board for believing in this project and providing the federal funds to make it possible. All of us have been impacted in some way by the COVID crisis, and this is especially true for the increasing number of our neighbors experiencing homelessness. Our hope and prayer is the Champlain Inn will be a place where people, regardless of their situation and story, experience a new start. ANEW Place is blessed with an incredible team of people who’ve moved this project forward: Cindy Reid with Cathedral Square, Mark Sammut with Wright & Morrissey Inc., Bob Duncan with Duncan Wisniewski Architecture, Grace Ciffo with CEDO, and Hobart Popick with Langrock, Sperry, & Wool. I especially want to thank ANEW’s frontline staff who’ve worked tirelessly to provide a supportive shelter environment in a basement, RVs, and tents while navigating the challenges of COVID. We’re only as good as the team around us.”
“Low-barrier shelters save lives and are a critical resource for protecting some of our most vulnerable residents. The opening of a year-round facility represents a major expansion of our community’s capacity to address the challenge of homelessness,” said Mayor Miro Weinberger. “I am so grateful to the many partners who came together to realize this goal that we have labored for years to achieve. I am thankful to ANEW Place and their committed team led by Kevin Pounds, Cathedral Square, and the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board for finding a way to leverage the great need presented by this global pandemic and turn it into long-term opportunity, and to the neighbors and South End City Councilors who supported this initiative. Having a year-round low-barrier solution is just one of the ways that our community is going to emerge from this pandemic even stronger.”
ANEW Place closed on the purchase of the Champlain Inn on Friday, October 23, and funded the purchase with $2.5 million in Coronavirus Relief Funds granted by the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board (VHCB). ANEW Place will use the 33-unit motel to offer free rooms year-round for projected occupancy of 50 people. The property also includes a 2,800 square foot house that will provide space for on-site services, group meetings, and laundry facilities.
Now, ANEW Place will make several needed repairs to the property, and plans to re-open to serve clients on December 1.
Meeting the Needs of People Experiencing Homelessness During Covid-19 Pandemic
Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, ANEW Place was operating the Burlington Low-Barrier Shelter at a location at 179 South Winooski Avenue. However, when the pandemic hit, it became clear that the facility was not safe for staff and guests. It did not allow for physical distance, had poor ventilation, and did not have space where symptomatic individuals could isolate.
As a result, ANEW Place, the City of Burlington, and the State of Vermont worked quickly to find an alternative. ANEW Place shut down the site on March 26, and as a temporary solution, moved the remaining guests into 26 RVs at the City’s campground at North Beach. In June, this transitioned into a sanctioned tenting area with ANEW Place staff continuing to provide support.
The demand for a low-barrier shelter typically decreases during the warm weather months, but this year, by August, up to 40 people were staying at the campground, approximately two-thirds of whom were not staying at the Low-Barrier Shelter during the winter months before Covid-19. This is true even as more than 400 people experiencing homelessness are using State vouchers to stay in Chittenden County hotels.
With the need for a low-barrier facility clear, and the winter months approaching, the City of Burlington and ANEW Place began pursuing a plan to create a tiny home community for people experiencing homelessness on City-owned land on Sears Lane. However, funding for that plan proved difficult to secure. “It was August, our backs were against the wall, and we were praying for a miracle,” says Kevin Pounds, Director of ANEW Place. Kevin met with Champlain Housing Trust COO Michael Monte to identify possible facilities, and only the Champlain Inn met the needs of a low-barrier facility. Though the Inn was not for sale, Kevin reached out to the owner and initiated a discussion about purchase.
Hurdles remained. On October 5, the Burlington City Council approved an emergency resolution to amend the zoning of the inn so that people experiencing homelessness would have a Covid-safe option before the freezing temperatures of winter. The resolution aligns the occupancy permitted for a residential use with the occupancy that the Inn was permitted as a commercial use. Then, on October 13, the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board approved ANEW Place’s application for Coronavirus Relief Funds to purchase the Inn.
At the Champlain Inn, each room will provide guests with a private or semi-private sleeping area, electrical outlets to recharge phones and for other needs, and direct access to ANEW Place’s programs and services. The facility provides space for physical distancing, has appropriate ventilation, and allows for the isolation of symptomatic guests – making it a space that meets the needs of the Covid era and where people experiencing homelessness will be able to access shelter with dignity and respect.
“The Board believes the successful application for a grant of $2.5 million to acquire and rehabilitate the Champlain Inn reflects both the tenacity and heart of ANEW and the City of Burlington,” said Gus Seelig, Director for the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board. “In this time of responding to a pandemic, it has never been more clear that Housing is Health Care. The Champlain Inn will keep people warmer and healthier in the months ahead. We thank CHT for identifying this opportunity and deeply appreciate the hard work of Cindy Reid and the Cathedral Square Corporation in developing the application and planning for improvements. Finally, much thanks go to Senators Jane Kitchel, Tim Ashe, and Michael Sirotkin, Speaker Mitzi Johnson, and Chair Tom Stevens for insisting the a portion of the Coronavirus Relief Fund be used to expand Vermont’s supply of affordable homes.”
“This project is one of several collaborations between Cathedral Square and ANEW Place,” said Cindy Reid, Director of Development for Cathedral Square. “The pandemic has certainly highlighted systemic inequities in our housing system. We share ANEW’s compassion for treating people in need with dignity, and for identifying and mobilizing resources to provide safe homes and services to help those in need.”
History of Effort to Create Low-Barrier Facility in Burlington
Until several years ago, there was no low-barrier facility in Burlington, meaning a facility that welcomes any adult regardless of their sobriety or mental health. That changed in 2014, when Mayor Miro Weinberger ended the City’s long-standing opposition to a low-barrier shelter, and several organizations worked with the City’s support to establish a low-barrier shelter for the winter months. In the years that followed, the facility took several forms:
· 2014-2015: First year pilot called the “winter warming shelter,” run by CVOEO
o In his April State of the City, Mayor Weinberger commits the City to a permanent shelter declaring, “We must now work with the State and private funders to move beyond a pilot program and find a way to permanently ensure that a low-barrier warming shelter opens before next winter arrives.”
o Second year, run by COTS for a season that spanned November 1-April 1; shelter had 50 beds but demand outstripped capacity
· 2016-2017: Third year, run by CHCB for a season November 1-April 18 (season extended for 18 days with operational funding from UVMMC). Shelter had 35 permanent beds and provided 5,290 individual shelter bed nights over the season
o In his 2017 State of the City, Mayor Weinberger calls for the low-barrier shelter to become a year-round facility
o Mayor attends Chittenden County Homeless Alliance meeting to ask for the coalition’s focus and support for a year-round low barrier facility.
o Fourth year, run by CHCB for a season November 1-April 15, expanded to 37 permanent beds and provided 6,333 individual shelter bed nights over the season
o Burlington budgets local funds for expanded shelter operations for the first time. While responsibility for temporary shelters are generally the responsibility of the State, the City has budgeted funds for expanded low-barrier shelter operations every year since.
o Fifth year, run by CHCB for a season that spanned November 1-June 15, with the extended season funded by the City of Burlington. The name changes to the “Low-Barrier Shelter.”
· 2019: Sixth year, run by ANEW Place, and moved to the North Beach Campground when the Covid-19 pandemic hit.
o March: Covid-19 closes the shelter on Winooski Avenue, and the City, State, and ANEW Place partner to move guests into RVs at the City’s North Beach Campground
o June: State funding for RVS ends, and City and ANEW Place sustain low-barrier services through summer with a tenting area at North Beach
o July: ANEW Place and Mayor Weinberger propose a tiny home development on Sears Lane for people experiencing homelessness, but funding for proposal is denied
o August-September: ANEW Place develops a new application for funds to purchase the Champlain Inn, which is approved in October
o Seventh year, run by ANEW Place, moving to 165 Shelburne Road, opening December 1 and staying open year-round!
This section draws on information that was put together by the Community Health Centers of Burlington (CHCB) during the years that they ran the low-barrier shelter.