- Rachel Hellman ©️ Seven Days
The first residents of the Elmwood Avenue shelter pods will move in this week, Burlington city officials said on Monday.
They spoke in the shelter's community center, located in the former parking lot at 51 Elmwood Avenue that has been transformed into a fenced-off pod community. Workers hurriedly applied finishing touches during a press conference.
All 35 residents will be moved in by the end of the month, Mayor Miro Weinberger said. They will have a staggered orientation, with no more than five people moving in within a 48-hour period.
The Old North End facility — which is a low-barrier shelter, meaning there are no sobriety requirements — is part of Weinberger’s 10-point plan to ramp up housing production and end chronic homelessness by the end of 2024. The state’s houseless population has increased by 150 percent in the last two years, a trend that's drawn national attention.
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Eighty people applied for one of the 35 beds. Applicants were accepted on a first-come, first-served basis, assuming they had no history of violence.
The pod city features 25 single units, ranging in size from 60 to 120 square feet, and five units that can accommodate two residents upon request. The modest prefabricated pods have one or two single beds, a mini fridge, heat, air conditioning, and electricity. Residents will share bathroom facilities and a central community space where meals are served.
The shelter is enacting a strict no-visitors rule. “We're eager to welcome guests and provide them with a place that is safe and secure,” said Michael Monte, chief executive officer of the Champlain Housing Trust, which is overseeing daily operations at the site. “That's the key motto for this particular community.”
- Rachel Hellman ©️ Seven Days
Monte made it clear that he sees the low-barrier shelter pods as part of a larger housing and public health puzzle. He envisions most residents finding more permanent housing solutions within six to eight months of moving into a pod.
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To make that vision a reality, the city has employed five full-time staff members, including a liaison for community support. There are also two full-time case managers to help residents navigate housing applications and a Parks and Recreation employee for facility maintenance. The private security company Chocolate Thunder will provide overnight security.
Monte choked up when he recalled staff phoning applicants to let them know they could finally schedule a time to move into their pod.
“That’s what it’s about, right?” Monte said. “It's about meeting people's needs right where they are. They need to be sheltered. They need to be housed.”
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