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Mayor, group debate homeless program~ RH October 9, 2015

Mayor, group debate homeless program
By Gordon Dritschilo
STAFF WRITER | October 09, 2015
The Homelessness Prevention Center defended its track record this week after Mayor Christopher Louras criticized the organization as part of his opposition to a proposed shelter.
“I love alliteration,” the mayor said earlier this week. “I’m going to take the following tack. The proposal on the table right now is the wrong plan, in the wrong place, with the wrong partners.”
Louras said the main partner triggering the latter objection is the Homelessness Prevention Center, specifically citing its efforts with convicts transitioning from prison to freedom.
Debra Hall, the HPC’s executive director, said she was surprised by the criticism.
“We had a specific meeting with the mayor and (Department of Corrections district manager) Keith Tallon to discuss our specific benchmarks,” she said. “(The mayor) didn’t say he was disappointed with our program at all.”
The proposed shelter would be at the new BROC building at the edge of downtown. Its backers refer to it as a “warming” shelter because it would provide emergency beds to homeless individuals in cold weather.
Louras refers to it as a “wet” shelter because, unlike the Open Door Mission, which requires sobriety, the shelter at BROC would take anyone capable of walking in. This aspect triggered the first portion of Louras’ objection and the downtown location the second.
“The HPC has for five years provided case management for an equally difficult transitional corrections population and has been stymied in its efforts (to) improve on its program outcomes since program inception,” Louras wrote in a letter to Human Services Secretary Hal Cohen outlining his objections to the project.
“I disagree with that, and that’s not what he said to me in that meeting,” Hall said, adding that she has been talking with the state about establishing a results-based accountability framework that accounts for everything the group does.
“Social service agencies put a lot of work into connecting people with jobs, connecting people with social services,” she said. “That’s not always tracked.”
Louras said that what is tracked does not encourage him.
“You’ve got a captive audience of furloughees and they’ve only demonstrated a 35 percent success with those furloughees,” he said.
Information provided by Hall showed that in the 2014-15 fiscal year, nine of 26 participants successfully completed the program and moved into permanent housing.
Susan Ransom-Kelley, a local program supervisor for the Vermont Department of Corrections, said the percentage was a good one, given the population the organization works with.
“People who go to HPC have nowhere to go,” she said. “They don’t have supportive family members. They have the deck stacked against them. These numbers are good.”
Ransom-Kelley said the department was happy with the HPC’s performance.
“I can’t say enough good about them,” she said. “They are wonderful people and they do good work.”
Hall pointed out that a number of other organizations would partner in the shelter, and that the committee developing the plan also includes The Rutland County Women’s Network & Shelter, the Housing Trust of Rutland County and the United Way.
“There’s folks there with much more experience than mine,” she said. “There’s no need for things to be made personal, fingers pointing. I don’t understand that.”
gordon.dritschilo@rutlandherald.com

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