We are all just a few steps away from becoming homeless, a friend reminded me recently.
Some people are closer than others, for sure.
But it's not hard to imagine how it could happen.
You get behind in your bills, your car breaks down, you lose your job, or you get sick. And then you lose your home, and eventually you wear out the hospitality of friends and family.
You find yourself with no place to go, no means to support yourself, or worse -- no way to support your family.
The "There but for the grace of God, go I" mentality may come to mind when we encounter those who now have no place to call home.
Bennington County reported a homeless population of 365 earlier this year -- most of them children. Vermont has the highest rate of homelessness in New England, and at least 66 percent of Vermont households do not earn enough to afford the average fair market rent, according to the Committee on Temporary Shelter Serving Vermont.
Nonetheless, in places where homelessness is in your back yard -- in the town of Bennington, for instance -- it's difficult for those trying to help the homeless population to garner support.
The Bennington Coalition for the Homeless is a local organization that aims to not only provide a helping hand to the local homeless population -- but is one that strives to provide the homeless with tools to better their situation.
The coalition has endured some significant struggles this year.
In February, the group let go its executive director, Kendy Skidmore, who had been with the coalition for 13 years, after questions arose over money management. It then revealed to the Bennington Select Board that financial information it submitted to secure a place on the town ballot for public funds was incorrect. Voters approved giving $7,500 to the coalition all the same.
Reporting debt that totaled more than $33,000 earlier this year, the board of the Bennington Coalition for the Homeless was unsure if it would be able to survive. But less than six months later, the coalition's board is at a point where they have some good news to share. Thanks in part to donations of knowledge and funds, it continues to weather that financial storm.
That is in spite of another minor setback that occurred in July, when the coalition's 6 Bank St., North Bennington, shelter became infested with bed bugs and was forced to shut down. It was recently announced that the shelter has been closed for good and the coalition is moving forward with a new strategy to help the local homeless population.
The coalition this week announced the opening of its Drop-in Service Center at 250 North St. in Bennington. This facility will be open daily: Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. There, those who need it will be able to access case management and other services, get training, undergo therapy, establish a mailing address, and access the Internet and phone lines. The service center will also act as an overnight emergency shelter.
It will be a one-stop shop for people who need help with housing and related issues to find the help they require.
Additionally, the Bennington Coalition for the Homeless will continue to operate the Thatcher house interim housing facility at 212 Pleasant St. and 111-115 1 2 McCall St. as transitional housing projects.
According to a press release from the coalition, "It is our sincere belief that this support, the support of area organizations and individuals has led many who were homeless to become permanently and sustainably housed. We know that this support will help us to continue to provide these services in an effort to eliminate the problem of homelessness in Bennington."
If you've ever thought "There but for the grace of God, go I," when you saw some of the local homeless population, there are numerous ways to help via organizations like the Bennington Coalition for the Homeless.
If you are interested in volunteering for the coalition or would like to make a donation, contact Bennington Coalition for the Homeless, P.O. Box 835, North Bennington, VT 05257, call 802-442-2424 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
~ Michelle Karas