The Committee on Temporary Shelter {COTS}

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COTS spotlight

“The BVTMB team is thrilled to do a monthly series on local non-profit organizations in our community. Each month our team we will highlight a different non-profit with the hopes to educate and support all of the fabulous things they do. We encourage you to read, comment, and share what non-profit organizations are close to your hearts and families.”

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When I was in my early twenties, I had the opportunity to provide volunteer pregnancy, birth, and postpartum care to interested women and families using the services of The Committee on Temporary Shelter (COTS). Volunteering was a heartfelt and rewarding way to support growing families in need. I got to experience the quality of support and care COTS staff and associated members provide. I went on to become a per-diem residential staff member at the COTS Family Shelters for a year. COTS is truly an amazing non-profit within the Vermont community. Please read on to find our more their mission, vision, and services.

The Committee on Temporary Shelter provides emergency shelter, services, and housing for people who are homeless or marginally housed in Vermont. COTS advocates for long-term solutions to end homelessness.

COTS believes in the value and dignity of every human life; housing is a fundamental human right; and, emergency shelter is not the solution to homelessness

History:

The story of COTS begins in 1982, when a group of concerned community members and organizations first come together to address the needs of the growing homeless population in Burlington.

By October, this group of volunteers, now called the Committee on Temporary Shelter, prepares for the upcoming winter. On Christmas Eve 1982, they open the doors, offering overnight shelter in the Sara Holbrook Community Center for adults without homes. During COTS’ first six months, volunteers help provide shelter for 94 people.

Fast forward to 2014/2015, COTS embodies three shelters for both individuals and families:

COTS Waystation

This is a 36-bed shelter for men and women, ages 18 and older, who have no other place to sleep at night except for the streets. Individuals are expected to save 70% of their income while staying in COTS shelter. Located on lower Church Street in downtown Burlington since 1983, the shelter is open 6:15 p.m. to 8 a.m., 365 days a year.

In 2014, 301 individuals stayed in emergency shelter. Shelter demand typically slows in warmer months, but these shelters have operated at full capacity since the summer of 2008.

COTS Daystation

This daytime drop-in shelter is open 365 days a year seven days a week, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. It offers a refuge from the streets and access to an array of services and medical care. This is where individuals can meet with COTS staff and connect with local resources, receive mail and telephone calls, and find support toward their goal of self-sufficiency. Daystation staff provide support, assistance and referrals, as well as educational and recreational opportunities whenever possible.

In 2014, An average of 40 people a day — used the Daystation, the only daytime shelter for homeless adults in Chittenden County.

COTS Family Shelters-Main Street and Firehouse

COTS is able to shelter fifteen families at a time between our two family shelters, which are the only Family Shelters in Chittenden County.  Both are staffed 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Families can stay for up to six months while they work with COTS staff to find affordable housing, employment, childcare, and healthcare. Families are also expected to save 40% of their income while staying at COTS.

Children raised with housing instability are often at the greatest risk of becoming homeless themselves. With that in mind, we take a long-term approach to homelessness prevention with our children’s programming in shelter. We aim to effectively intervene now to stabilize parents and children, help them build new skills, and stop homelessness from happening in the future.

 In 2014, 78 families, including 127 children, stayed in emergency shelter.  Please note that their shelters are consistently full with a waiting list.

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Additionally, COTS owns and operates transitional and permanent housing for people who have moved out of emergency shelter.

Homelessness:

There are many misconceptions about what causes homelessness. While the root causes are many and varied, it is surprisingly easy for people to become homeless if they have no savings or family to lean on for help.

On any given payday, thousands of working families are struggling to balance increasing expenses against flat or falling wages.  One unforeseen expense — a medical emergency, a drop in wages or a major car repair — can result in a desperate financial situation, which can lead to a family’s becoming homeless.

*The average fair market rent for a 2-bedroom apartment in Chittenden County is $1,015 — 44% higher than the national average. Wages required to afford that rent are $19.48 an hour or $40,518 a year.

 Homelessness is often assumed to be an urban phenomenon because homeless people are more numerous, more geographically concentrated, and more visible in urban areas. However, people experience the same difficulties associated with homelessness and housing distress in America’s small towns and rural areas as they do in urban areas. This is true within Vermont.

In fact, Vermont has the highest rate of homelessness in New England; at least 66% of Vermont residents do not earn enough to afford the average fair market rent.

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Get Involved!

COTS relies on the support of hundreds of volunteers over the course of a year.  You can make a difference by contributing your time and talent to COTS either one-time or on an on-going basis. Please note that to volunteer in our shelters, you must be at least 18 years old.  If you are under 18, there are still many ways that you can help.  Some of our most creative and compassionate supporters are students under the age of 18. Click here, to find out more about ways to support COTS.

If you cannot volunteer on an on-going basis, consider participating in one of several annual events, or you can make a direct donation here.

*Portions of this post is adapted from the COTS website.

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Home Birth Midwife. Mom. Born and raised in Norwich, Vermont. My husband and I met in a Biology class while students at the University of Vermont, and we hit it off over the subject of home birth. Quite a match! We live in Burlington with our two daughters and two dogs while my husband completes medical residency at the University of Vermont. Most of my time is spent with my family or being with growing families. Apart from maternity care, I enjoy Bikram yoga, crafting, sewing, gardening/farming, traveling, and cooking. Follow me on Instagram @BabyAndJulep

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