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Champlain Housing Trust to Manage Burlington Shelter Pod Community


Published September 9, 2022 at 4:30 a.m.

The shelter pod construction site - COURTNEY LAMDIN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Courtney Lamdin ©️ Seven Days
  • The shelter pod construction site
Updated at 1:28 p.m.

The City of Burlington has finally found an organization to manage its planned Elmwood Avenue shelter community, potentially putting the project on a path to open before winter.

Affordable housing developer Champlain Housing Trust will oversee daily operations at the site, which is in a city-owned parking lot at 51 Elmwood Avenue. Prep work has already begun.

Once fully built, the Elmwood community will feature 30 shelter "pods" that range in size from 60 to 120 square feet. Each unit will have electricity, heat and air conditioning; residents will share showers and toilets in a separate modular unit. The pod city will be open for three years.

At a press conference Friday morning announcing the partnership, Mayor Miro Weinberger noted that some 220 people in the Burlington area are chronically homeless, and more and more are sleeping in tents and even doorways around the city. The new facility is intended to lower that number and provide the residents with medical and social services, including drug and mental health treatment, permanent housing and employment.

"This is something new," Weinberger said. "We are trying to create a different kind of shelter, very  intentionally so. The belief is that what we will be bringing into being here will address a part of the homelessness challenge, the unhoused challenge, that we have not had the resources to fully address before."

The facility is what's known as a low-barrier shelter, meaning there are no sobriety requirements to get a placement. But the application process for the site is still influx, according to the housing trust's CEO Michael Monte, who said the facility would open "before the holidays" in November.
The community was supposed to open in July, but plans were delayed when the city couldn't find a partner to manage it. CHT initially declined to manage the site, but decided to once the city agreed to keep a community resource center at the site of the Feeding Chittenden food shelf on North Winooski Avenue. Monte, the organization's CEO, also mentioned staffing concerns.

The nonprofit has a long history of building permanently affordable housing, including projects to serve chronically homeless people. In 2016, the nonprofit transformed the former Ho Hum Motel in South Burlington into housing with built-in social services. The organization owns another former motel on Williston Road that was used as an isolation facility during the height of the coronavirus pandemic. CHT is now converting the building into affordable apartments.

As the Elmwood community's operating partner, CHT will help with the intake process, resolve conflicts and hold regular meetings with neighbors, according to the site management plan. Other staff, known as "community service coordinators" employed by the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity, will be charged with helping residents find long-term housing.

Paid for with coronavirus relief funds, the shelter project is one prong of Weinberger's 10-point plan to ramp up housing production and to end chronic homelessness by the end of 2024. The city has also used recovery funds to hire a city staffer focused on combating homelessness and to prop up the county's coordinated entry program, which connects people with housing assistance.

For those without homes, said Brian Pine, director of the city's Community & Economic Development Office, the site will be "someplace that offers safety and security and stability, in addition to being paired with services that will provide, hopefully, a path forward and a bridge from being unhoused to stabilizing their lives and moving into housing.

"Permanent housing is certainly the goal," he said.

Sasha Goldstein contributed reporting.

Correction, September 9, 2022: An earlier version of this story incorrectly described one of the buildings owned by Champlain Housing Trust.