As housing advocates converge on Montpelier today for the Governor's Summit on Housing for the Homeless, newly released data offer a ray of hope for Vermont's vexing homelessness problem.
The 2011 Point in Time Homeless Survey, a 24-hour count of the homeless conducted every January, shows that Vermont's homeless population on that day dropped 12 percent as compared to the January 2010 count — from 2782 individuals to 2450.
The count was conducted on January 26, 2011, but delays in getting Chittenden County totals stalled the report's release until last week. (To download the report, sans Chittenden Co. data, click here.)
In Chittenden County, the number of homeless and precariously housed individuals — people who are couch surfing, bunking with relatives or sleeping in garages and basements — fell from a record high of 907 last year to 707 this year. The number of homeless children age 18 and under also decreased in the count, from 256 in 2010 to 182 in 2011.
Rita Markley (pictured), executive director of Burlington-based emergency shelter provider COTS, sees an unmistakable trend — one she attributes to the modest economic recovery and money pumped into homeless prevention programs over the last few years.
Others, like Burlington Housing Authority executive director Paul Dettman, see "spin" and numbers that "don't pass the straight-face test."