Vermont buttons up against upcoming freeze, offers shelter to people who need it

A pedestrian braves the cold in St Johnsbury last January. -20 degrees is likely in parts of the state this weekend, with shelters and heat centers slated to open in many communities. File photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

The brutal cold this Friday and Saturday will hit anyone who ventures outside, but community organizations in particular are deeply concerned about the unhoused Vermonters.

“It’s incomprehensible that anyone would sleep outside in 20 degrees Celsius,” said Alison Calderara, director of programs and promotions at Capstone Community Action. “There is increasing concern to ensure we are doing everything in our power to accommodate someone safely.”

The National Weather Service has warned of extreme cold and dangerous wind showers across the country during the two-day period, prompting Capstone and other community organizations in Vermont to save lives.

Nighttime temperatures in Montpelier are expected to drop to -15 degrees on Friday night and -18 degrees on Saturday night. Burlington lows are expected to drop to -13 both nights. The story is similar across the state, with double-digit temperatures expected in Brattleboro, Bennington, Rutland and St. Johnsbury.

Capstone, a community action agency serving Lamoille, Orange and Washington counties, is mobilizing to direct Vermonters to places where they can be warm and to provide heat sources for their homes.

Though Capstone doesn’t have its own shelters, it does refer people to shelters in the area, such as the Good Samaritan Haven in Barre, Calderara said. It also helps people find transportation to available accommodation, which may include hotel rooms provided by the State Economic Services Department.

Capstone and similar organizations offer a crisis hotline that people can call if they’re running out of fuel or if their furnace is failing and they can’t afford repairs.

Additionally, they provide fuel and ration cards, which can be vital to keeping people safe, Calderara said.

In all, five municipal action agencies cover the state:

• Capstone Community Action serves all cities in Washington, Orange and Lamoille counties, as well as the cities of Granville and Hancock in Addison County; Pittsfield in County Rutland; and Barnard, Bethel, Rochester, Royalton, Sharon and Stockbridge in Windsor County;

• Community Action in the North East of the Kingdom serves Orleans, Essex and Caledonia counties:

• The Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity serves residents of Addison (excluding Granville and Hancock), Chittenden, Franklin and Grand Isle counties;

• Southeastern Vermont Community Action serves residents of Windham and Windsor counties, with the exception of Barnard, Bethel, Rochester, Royalton, Sharon, and Stockbridge in Windsor counties:

• BROC Community Action serves all of Rutland and Bennington counties.

Burlington is getting ready

The Burlington-based Committee on Temporary Shelter, the state’s largest provider of services to the homeless, will extend the hours of its overnight shelter and day care center to help protect people from the cold.

The organization has accommodation for individuals known as the Waystation, which sleeps up to 36 people, and the Main Street Family Shelter sleeps up to 15 families. It also operates the Daystation, which is within walking distance of the other two emergency shelters in downtown Burlington. It’s a drop-in center that offers meals, showers, laundry, and dormitories.

During the extreme cold, the Daystation hours are extended so that it opens at 8am, while the overnight shelters open earlier than usual in the afternoon, so there is no downtime when people are exposed to the cold.

The Committee on Temporary Shelter, commonly known as COTS, will also offer some surplus overnight accommodation at the Daystation.

“We can accommodate people who might come by in the middle of the night because it’s so cold, or they might come over sometime in the evening,” said Jonathan Farrell, managing director of COTS.

Farrell said the organization will also be distributing EMPWR coats — coats that turn into sleeping bags in emergencies — to people who show up outside their doors.

“It’s not a solution, but, man, it’s getting cold; that could be a lifeline for someone,” he said.

Also in Burlington, an “Extreme Cold Weather Center” will open at the city’s Miller Center Thursday through Saturday from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. and the city-supported daytime warming station, operated by the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity, will extend its hours extend to Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m.

shelters and heat centers

Vermont Emergency Management has compiled a complete list of makeshift shelters and warm-up centers open statewide. The list does not include the shelters that typically operate in many locations.

These centers provide “an absolutely vital safety net in times like these,” Calderara said.

Gov. Phil Scott’s office issued a warning of the approaching extreme cold.

“Extremely cold weather is nothing new to most Vermonters, but it is important to be aware of the resources available to be prepared should the need arise,” the governor said in a statement.

Scott’s warning included recommendations Vermonters can take to protect themselves from the weather:

  • Check if your neighbors have heat.
  • Limit outdoor activities.
  • Make sure fuel oil supplies are on hand and that heat sources are properly vented.
  • If you plan to travel, load extra blankets in your car.
  • Before you go outside, cover your hands and mouth.
  • Watch out for the symptoms of frostbite and hypothermia.

Vermont State Police are planning “freeze patrols” throughout the weekend to patrol freeways during night hours to help stranded motorists.

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