One survey and many services yields encouraging results

Jan Demers

Showers are available every Tuesday and Thursday at the Red Door Church for those in the community who need them.

This safe space at the First United Methodist Church in Burlington also offers an opportunity to connect people who are homeless with resources they need.

For example, one guest came for a shower, filled out an assessment and found a home. “Are you for real?” he said. He was skeptical to say the least. He had been homeless for years, living in camps and occasionally, when it got really cold, in an Emergency General Assistance Hotel.

The assessment he filled out is a “Vulnerability Index-Service Prioritization Decision Assistance Tool” used to prioritize those who are in the most danger from being homeless. These folks go to the top of the list for available housing that comes with permanent support. It asks questions like: How long has it been since you lived in permanent stable housing? In the past six months, have you received care at an emergency room, taken an ambulance, been hospitalized, used a crisis service for sexual assault, mental health crisis; been beaten up or threatened? Its five pages of questions are used to create a vulnerability score.

Chittenden County has been using the vulnerability assessment for four years. It started when there was an effort to find out the names of everyone who was homeless and implement a plan to house those in need starting with the most vulnerable.

Some key findings taken from an annual survey:

  • A 56 percent decrease in chronic homelessness
  • A 26 percent reduction in family homelessness
  • A 42 percent reduction in homelessness among people with severe mental illness
  • A 70 percent reduction in homelessness among those affected by a substance use disorder

Those decreases did not happen by accident, but come out of a willingness to push through skepticism, do the hard work, and use a process described as “coordinated entry.”

Chris Brzovic is the Coordinated Entry Coordinator and has been with the project throughout the entire four years. “There are so many barriers to overcome – criminal history, past due debt, cycling through service providers, mental health and substance abuse challenges. I was skeptical, but no longer. I’m excited when I look back and see how we have changed. We match the right person to the right program,” he said.

“Our goal is to make homelessness rare and brief. It took a litany of acronyms to get us where we are today,” Brzovic said.

He ticked off the acronyms of more than a dozen programs to assist the homeless covering an alphabet-soup of services touching on mental health, health care, youth services, shelter and more. The entire list can be found online at

The finish line is still in the distance, but there is a plan and it works. It takes prioritization through the assessment process, targeting the most vulnerable and making sure we are not losing anyone.

Most of all it takes working together with one goal. We are all needed to reach that goal.

Jan F. Demers is executive director of the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity. 862-2771 ext. 740,

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