Last March, Gov. Peter Shumlin set a goal for the state: to eliminate family homelessness in five years. This October, partly in response to that pledge, a group of organizations will try to figure out how many families are homeless in Chittenden County and what type of assistance they need.
The three-day family survey, which will take place October 15-17, is part of an ongoing effort to collect detailed information about the region's homeless residents. Last fall, volunteers did the same thing for homeless individuals living in Burlington, drawing on the model of a national organization called the 100,000 Homes campaign. The concept: to collect detailed information about who is homeless, then find housing for them, prioritizing the most vulnerable.
According to the registry coordinator, Christopher Brzovik, 40 homeless individuals were housed after participating in last year's survey, and so far all of them have retained their apartments.
With the family survey, "we are hoping to reproduce that success," he said. The Burlington Housing Authority, the Champlain Housing Trust, the Committee on Temporary Shelter (COTS), the United Way of Chittenden County, the University of Vermont Medical Center and Women Helping Battered Women are all helping to organize the event.
Counting homeless families is not a new practice. The U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development already require states to conduct two annual counts, and COTS did its own last year. But they have produced conflicting numbers, Brzovik said, and they haven't given service providers "person-specific data."
Collecting that kind of data can get complicated, though. The survey includes a series of personal questions on topics ranging from substance abuse to mental health. Some of the volunteers are "mandatory reporters," meaning they are legally obligated to notify the state if they suspect child abuse.
Brzovik acknowledged, "This is always a possibility — that if you have grounds to suspect that there's child abuse, you’d have to make a report." But he also said that none of the questions are designed to elicit evidence of abuse. "There's nothing in the survey that would necessarily mandate that report." Volunteers will be trained, he said, to follow best practices when it comes to reporting abuse.