Bridging gaps and building futures when alcohol and poverty link

By Jan Demers, Executive Director, CVOEO

Harold was in his eighties when I met him back in the early 1980s. My husband was getting his master’s degree in Boston and I was taking care of our young family and working evenings at a local nursing home. Harold was wheelchair and bed bound. He wasn’t much for conversation and he seldom had any visitors. I had the opportunity to be with Harold during the last year of his life and sat beside him as he died. My children and I were the only people at his funeral. Harold was an alcoholic. When I knew him those years were past, and yet, the damage he inflicted upon his family meant that they were not present to say goodbye.

It takes determination and courage to say no to addiction. There are many people we pass by each day who face addiction with every breath they take and yet are sober at the end of the day. Glen was in rehab 8 times, homeless and in homeless shelters for three and a half years. He stayed in the Burlington warming shelter last winter. “I’ve been given hundreds of chances,” he said. “Sobriety is something you get from inside yourself. Mine came out of my darkest hour.”

Glen is now sober and happily living in his own apartment.

The linkages between alcohol and poverty are clear. Absenteeism, work accidents, and decreased productivity can result in loss of employment and homelessness. At the same time, unemployment and homelessness can lead to increased use of alcohol. In this cycle, health deteriorates and trips to the emergency room rise.

According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependency, alcohol is the most commonly used addictive substance in the United States. About 17.6 million people, or one in every 12 adults, suffer from alcohol abuse or dependence along with several million more who engage in risky, binge drinking patterns that could lead to alcohol problems. More than 7 million children live in a household where at least one parent is dependent on or has abused alcohol.

It is the rare individual who moves from addiction to recovery in a single step. Most of us need 100-plus chances. Every day we meet those walking the path of this disease. It is essential that we own our own recovery. Like Harold’s family, there are times there is a need to separate from those we love. Amazingly there are other people and groups who step in to offer hope in the struggle. No one person holds the magic key to recovery.

While we don’t offer treatment, offering people second chances and providing them with choices – that is the mission of Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity (CVOEO). It is the work of bridging gaps and building futures.

Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity (CVOEO) addresses fundamental issues of economic, social, and racial justice and works with people to achieve economic independence, serving 10,000 local households annually, impacting the lives of more than 20,000 individuals. For more information email

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