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Opening of emergency housing ‘pods’ in Burlington delayed until January

  • A worker helps assemble a structure in Burlington in October 2022 at the Elmwood Emergency Shelter Community, a group of pods meant to temporarily house people who otherwise have no shelter. Two community buildings that are slated to include communal showers, bathrooms, laundry and areas for community resources have not yet been built, delaying the opening of the pod community. (VtDigger - Glenn Russell) VtDigger file —Glenn Russell

Published: 11/22/2022 10:14:38 PM
Modified: 11/22/2022 10:14:39 PM

BURLINGTON — The opening of a community of emergency housing “pods” on Elmwood Avenue has been delayed to early January, officials announced during the City Council meeting on Monday night.

The city had been planning on a late November opening and work is underway at the Elmwood site, with 25 shelters on the former city parking lot.

But yet to be constructed are two community buildings, which are being manufactured by KBS Builders, a modular home manufacturer from South Paris, Maine. The buildings are slated to include communal showers, bathrooms, laundry and areas for community resources.

Samantha Dunn, from the city’s Community and Economic Development Office, said the delay of the community buildings is due to a number of factors, including supply chain problems and staffing shortages.

Dunn said the city hopes to have the buildings delivered before Christmas, but after they are on site, more time would be needed to get them ready for opening.

Dunn said she was “very comfortable” in the January opening, but admitted to the council that her original timeline was “overly optimistic.”

Sarah Russell, the development office’s special assistant to end homelessness, told the council on Monday that she recognized that the delay of the pods “leaves a gap” in emergency housing for those experiencing homelessness as winter approaches.

Staff from the development office were at the City Council meeting to give a progress update on Mayor Miro Weinberger’s action plan to end homelessness that he announced last December.

During the public comment period at the meeting, Lucy Gluck, a housing navigator from the Committee on Temporary Shelter, or COTS, voiced frustration with the delays. COTS is a nonprofit group that works on issues of homelessness in the Burlington area.

“There’s a lot of people calling us who are desperate to get out of the woods,” Gluck said.

Gluck also suggested the city come up with a temporary emergency solution to use while waiting on the opening of the Elmwood pods.

In February, the council approved using $3 million of American Rescue Plan Act funds to be directed toward ending homelessness in the city. Nearly $1.5 million was directed at building the shelters and another $1 million was directed toward a new community resource center.

The city’s community development office originally estimated a July opening, but that was eventually delayed to this fall due to problems with supply chains and the inability to find organizations willing to manage the community. Then in September, the city announced that Champlain Housing Trust would manage the Elmwood pod community.

Russell told the council on Monday night that four out of seven total staff for the community have been hired by Champlain Housing Trust so far and they are currently being trained.

Twenty-five of the shelters, which are already on site, are planned to house individuals. Five additional units, which are also delayed, would house two people each. The delay of the two-person units is not expected to hold up the opening, city officials said on Monday.

The pod community is seen as a temporary emergency solution to provide housing. But in Weinberger’s update of his housing action plan sent to the council on Monday, he noted that he is working with Champlain Housing Trust on a plan where after three years of emergency housing, a permanent site would be built.

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