Housing the Homeless During COVID

The COVID-19 outbreak has shone a bright spotlight on the many social challenges our state faces, and perhaps none has stood out more than an issue on which Downstreet has been focused for quite some time: the issue of homelessness. Over the years we have continually placed those experiencing homeless in our rental units whenever and wherever possible; as of now, those units make up 19% of our rental portfolio. But in the wake of the novel coronavirus outbreak, it was obvious that more needed to be done, and fast.

At a time when Vermonters are told to “stay home, stay safe,” and with shelters unable to provide the physical distancing needed to slow the spread of the virus, many find themselves without a place to go to keep themselves and those around them safe and healthy.

“It’s unacceptable for people to not be able to stay in a shelter [because of COVID],” says Liz Genge, Downstreet’s Director of Property Management. “It became clear very quickly that we had to do something.”

And so we did. Downstreet has been tapped as the housing partner for Capstone Community Action’s initiative to house the homeless through funding provided by the CARES act. While connecting homeless families and individuals with homes in our rental properties is nothing new for us, this effort needed to be executed with a new sense of urgency, as the grant requirements include a December 31st deadline for those applying for housing through the new program.

Liz explains, “We knew that Vermont’s homeless population was higher than what we’ve been seeing in the annual point in time counts, but COVID has given us a more accurate idea of how many people don’t have a place to live.”

Amy Dupuis, Downstreet’s Occupancy Specialist, has worked tirelessly with Capstone to match candidates to housing in our buildings while adhering to the rules and guidelines of the program. And she has done all this while also continuing to manage her regular workload during an increasingly busy time of year.

“It’s been a ton of work, but it breaks my heart when I think about those people and families having no place to go,” Amy shares. “And it’s getting cold. They need a place to live, now.”

Amy’s work is key, as it is the first step to housing those who have no place to call home. And according to Liz, Amy’s boss, she is “killing it.” But the work doesn’t end with the lease agreement

Liz explains, “We’ve been learning much more about the problems we face in housing, and not only that but also the reasons why people are homeless.”

Funds from the CARES act that support this effort also provide staffing for case management, which will help to address those reasons and support residents in their journey to long-term housing. And Downstreet’s property managers will have ongoing monthly meetings with Capstone as part of an ongoing relationship to support these residents.

Another program called “A Way Home” is set to start in January with a focus on chronically homeless families and individuals. Liz, Amy, and the rest of Downstreet’s Property Management team are gearing up for the next round of this effort, but if you ask any one of them, they will tell you, it’s well worth the work.

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