Bradford pandemic-era committee regroups to tackle homelessness

Librarian Gail Trede talks about the unauthorized issues she has had with those outside the Bradford Public Library. She says there have been people using an electrical outlet, an outdoor water spigot and the building's Wi-Fi after hours. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Librarian Gail Trede talks about the unauthorized issues she has had with those outside the Bradford Public Library. She says there have been people using an electrical outlet, an outdoor water spigot and the building's Wi-Fi after hours. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Jennifer Hauck

When waiting for a ride at the Bradford Public Library, Thomasina Howard of Bradford, Vt., checks her phone on Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2023. Howard, who now has an apartment in town, has previously been homeless. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

When waiting for a ride at the Bradford Public Library, Thomasina Howard of Bradford, Vt., checks her phone on Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2023. Howard, who now has an apartment in town, has previously been homeless. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Jennifer Hauck

By FRANCES MIZE

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 08-14-2023 9:56 PM

BRADFORD, Vt. — A town committee created during the COVID-19 pandemic has been charged with addressing another crisis: the rising rate of homelessness in Vermont.

Bradford Resilience, which will report findings back to the Selectboard, includes representatives from churches and social service organizations in the area, such as the Clara Martin Center and Little Rivers Healthcare.

“(Resilience) is more a convener of all the groups that tend to work on this kind of stuff,” said state Rep. Monique Priestley, D-Bradford, who chairs the committee. “It’s very collaborative.”

Meetings for the group took a “hiatus” in May 2021, after vaccines became widely available. Now it has found a new purpose.

Vermont had the second-highest rate of homelessness in the nation in 2022, and it saw an 18.5% increase in 2023.

In June, Vermont’s motel voucher program that sheltered a portion of the state’s unhoused population expired for nearly 800 of the 3,000 people enrolled when the state narrowed eligibility.

Since then, Bradford has seen an increase in those that are unhoused in town, emphasizing the lack of services available to people with precarious or no housing. There are no homeless shelters in Orange County, and many shelters elsewhere in the state are at capacity.

“The Selectboard is very concerned about everyone’s safety, and comfort, and availability of resources,” said Meroa Benjamin, chairwoman of the Selectboard. “This has become an issue in many towns across Vermont.” In July, people were sleeping on the lawn of the public library in Bradford, and making use of the building’s outdoor water spigot and electrical outlets.

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Bradford Resilience was created first as a mutual aid group, Priestley said. It became an entity of the town “when we figured out we needed more structure when it came to money and liability and stuff like that,” she said.

According to its official rules of procedure, the committee is meant “to stay connected and act as a community resource, particularly in times of crisis,” and meetings are open to the public.

The first meeting of the group to discuss homelessness, which has not been scheduled yet, “will be coming together to touch base on what’s going on, and try to think through immediate and intermediate action items,” Priestley said.

“But there are long-term things we need to do,” she added.

“This isn’t just about putting up porta-potties.”

Frances Mize is a Report for America corps member. She can be reached at fmize@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.