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Area shelters see increased demand for homeless youth services

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By Melissa Cooney

Published: Nov. 28, 2023 at 5:57 AM EST

BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) – As temperatures drop across our region, more people experiencing homelessness are looking for shelter, including Vermont’s youth.

Burlington-based Spectrum Youth and Family Services says they’ve worked with 1,434 youth this year, a 12% increase from 2022. Officials at Spectrum estimate around 50 youth are homeless and say their shelter is at capacity.

“We’re handing out tents and sleeping bags as fast as we get them in, which is something that we never had to do in the past,” said Will Towne with Spectrum.

Towne says the nonprofit is busier than ever. Their 26-bed shelter is full as are most other shelters in the Burlington area. They’re now working on other options to keep people ages 12 to 26 out of the cold.

“We’re working to try to get our winter warming shelter open and this year, hopefully, we will be able to keep that running year-round,” said Towne.

But without staffing, the 10-bed shelter isn’t running yet.

Marc Redmond with Spectrum says not being able to have a home can take a toll on the mental health of homeless young people. They plan on providing more mental health support, going from 4 to 12 licensed mental health counselors in three years. At one point they had 90 people on their wait list for services.

“It’s down to about nine now; we want it to be zero. But I think it shows the extent even though we keep expanding and adding mental health staff, the extent of the mental health difficulty young people are experiencing,” said Redmond.

An increase in homeless young people isn’t only a problem in Vermont’s most populated county.

“We definitely saw an influx of folks in that age range coming in, especially into the hotel program, the GA emergency shelter program,” Kim Anetsberger said.

Kim Anetsberger and Sherry Marcellino of the Lamoille Community House in Hyde Park say they went from a seasonal night shelter to a seasonal 24-hour shelter due to demand around the pandemic. Their shelter of 12 beds is at capacity, too. They say the county has around 70-80 people experiencing homelessness right now with roughly 30% of them being 18 to 24 years old.

“Their needs are different in the fact that they may not have the same history with homelessness just given their age. They may not have a treatment history, so it might be harder for them to get into services,” said Marcellino.

They say they often notice these young people are coming out of the Vermont Department for Children and Families, have developmental disabilities or struggle with mental illness.

“They’re graduating from the children’s world into the adult world and the bridges are just not strong enough to bring them in,” said Marcellino.

The new Lamoille Community House is opening a new 365-day-a-year shelter. It will be in Hyde Park housing 21 people, and is under construction now.

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