In 2023, VIA clergy and leaders, in conjunction with allies, succeeded in persuading the Governor and legislature to extend the state-run motel program at the end of the legislative session to continue to provide emergency shelter. Some 2,000 Vermonters were saved from eviction because of these efforts. Unfortunately another 800 people were evicted previously, and these folks, who are dispersed throughout the state, are in dire need of shelter with supports for mental health and substance use challenges.
Our LOC continues to meet as a statewide group, and we have created three subcommittees: 1) one for Burlington, to press the state to better coordinate with the city to handle the 250 unhoused people on the streets, 2) another for Central Vermont, to address the even greater demands on existing housing now that flooding has severely damaged 12% of that region’s units, and 3) a third in Bennington to establish a much needed and long-waited for day shelter. The LOC and subcommittees meet approximately every two weeks, as the situation has been in constant flux.
This organizing ministry supports a harm reduction approach to drug use, working through the coalition Decriminalize Vermont to emphasize health treatment for substance misuse instead of incarceration. This group is also supporting and helping to draft a Second Look bill to provide the possibility of parole, with a judge’s approval, for those serving long prison terms and those sentenced previously to life without parole. And finally, this group is part of a Stakeholders Group that meets regularly with the Department of Corrections to weigh in on programs and facilities for those incarcerated in Vermont. These meetings vary month to month depending on the schedules of the existing members but are usually Monday or Wednesday afternoons.
Eleven million undocumented persons have no pathway to citizenship, even though they have contributed greatly to the country they call home -- essential workers, DREAMERs, TPS holders, and farmworkers. VIA works with our national network's Faith for Liberation campaign to win immigration reform. Meetings are the 1st Thursday of each month from 10-11:15 am.
Partnering with the group that developed the Declaration of Inclusion, VIA leaders and clergy are reaching out to municipalities in Vermont to adopt a statement to welcome everyone regardless of race, religion, age, disability, gender expression, etc. Adoption of the statement is merely a first step; our goal is then to direct municipalities toward resources and supports to come up with practical ways to show true inclusion in their policies and programs. Meetings are the 2nd Wednesday of each month.
For the past year, this organizing committee concentrated on encouraging ad hoc community groups in municipalities to use our “Vermont Guide to Community Engagement with Local Police Departments” to have a meaningful conversation with their Police Chief and other officers. The goal is to build trust and mutual respect to make our communities safe for everyone.
We are currently implementing a pilot initiative in Burlington, partnering with a cultural change agency called Safer Together Solutions, which involves door-to-door canvassing to get community members involved in identification of a single concern to focus on solving in coordination with neighborhood police. Meetings are the 2nd Wednesday of the month.