H.O.P.E.'s Efforts to Aid Homelessness

HOPEINTLYNDONVILLE - As many know, homelessness is an issue that continues to impact the Northeast Kingdom. However, what you may not realize is its severity. According to Dan Haycook, general manager of H.O.P.E. in Lyndonville, homelessness here isn't as obvious as it is in urban areas, as people stay in the woods rather than on the streets. Nevertheless, there are still many individuals in the area struggling to meet their most basic needs.

Haycook is a graduate of Lyndon State College, who altered his career path after going on a service learning trip in school. He now manages H.O.P.E., and is constantly working to better the community.

According to him, the organization's initial priority is to get people the essentials for survival. They then will work with an individual to see what help would best aid their specific situation. "We are not a federal agency that can put people into housing by any means. But we also understand that that's a long drawn out process, and there are people sort of stuck in that limbo in the mean time. So we help in that sense," he continued. "We have tarps, and tents, and sleeping bags, and things to help people if they have no where to go. If it's a situation where it's a domestic violence survivor, who had to leave their current situation, and leave everything behind, we can not only help get them set up with clothing and their basic needs, but we work very very very closely with the case-workers at Umbrella to get them into a shelter or whatever the case may be."

He then described the statistics of homelessness in the area, discussing his frustration with the current data collection process. "The way they do it in Vermont is the point in time count. It's a single day each year where local agencies have to provide data to the state, and the only people that get counted in the state of Vermont are the people that go into an agency on that particular day. So it's not an accurate reflection of the homelessness in the state."

Therefore, if someone doesn't come in on that particular day, they're not being counted for being homeless, yet they are still dealing with it. In Haycook's opinion, data collection should be happening on an on-going basis in order to conclude accurate results. He believes that all of the organizations in the area should work together to keep better track of those impacted.

Haycook credits much of the non-profit's success to Jodi Wheeler, who is the executive director. "She's not the behind the desk, let everybody else do the work and I'll deal with the paperwork kind of person. She is somebody that will go out and help when she needs to. She is in direct communication with our chief of police, very regularly, and knows where everyone is camped out and goes and checks up on them herself. She'll bring people to the store before we open, so they're not embarrassed, or they're not insecure about being around other people, and she can get them what they need safely and discreetly."

He went on to describe a specific instance when Wheeler was helping a survivor of sexual assault and domestic violence. The woman was trying to start her life over, and had been sleeping in the woods due to the traumatic circumstances. While Wheeler was helping her, she noticed that the woman had bug bites all over her arms and legs, and got down on her hands and knees with ointment to help relieve the pain.

It's dedication like that which inspires Haycook to do what he does.

For anyone looking to get involved in the effort, Haycook recommends volunteering at a local shelter or organization.

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