This is why I’m a COTS Walker — Denise’s Story
Recently a friend asked what I found most surprising about working for COTS, the Committee on Temporary Shelter. My simple answer was that I hadn’t realized how varied the causes of homelessness are and how thin the veil can be between those who have a home and those who don’t. I told this friend the story of my first meeting with a homeless person.
Last spring we were planning for the renovation of our Daystation, a safe warm place for clients and where we serve the only lunchtime meal in Burlington each day. We wanted to survey some clients to ensure we understood the facility from their point of view. One client who offered to speak to us was “Mary.”
Mary had been homeless for several months. She was dressed professionally enough for a job interview and had excellent communication skills. She explained how important the Daystation was for her as she continued to work on her particular issues. She had experienced tragic losses in her own family and was suffering from depression that prevented her from working. She had lived with her brother but for various reasons had to leave that home. Without a job or savings, Mary had no choice but to turn to COTS.
Mary did not have many specific requests for our renovation but she did say that it ‘would be nice’ if when she waited for the bus outside our building, there was a shelter to keep her and her belongings dry. I was struck by the simplicity of her request but even more by how much she looked and acted like me or any of my friends. A change of luck, an illness or a loss could put anyone in Mary’s situation.
Our Daystation flooded on July 4th, shortly after I met Mary. We quickly re-established the program at the parsonage of the United Methodist Church in Burlington (amazing people) and continue to search for a permanent location.
Sometimes a homeless person’s problems are complex and intractable, but often the first step to a permanent solution can be simple and straightforward, a month’s rent, a security deposit, the kindness of a congregation or even a roof over a bus stop. Help us continue to provide solutions for those most in need.
The Power of $1,000
The people we serve often arrive at COTS’ shelters in crisis mode and our skilled and talented front line staff help them address the reasons for that crisis. Since shelter is not the answer to homelessness, COTS has developed successful strategies to prevent homelessness.
COTS steps in with a rent payment or security deposit for clients on the verge of homelessness. We are partnering with landlords in one of our newest programs, to provide a guaranty to our clients, who otherwise would not qualify as tenants due to a poor credit history.
Our data proves our success. Of the 2,026 households (that’s 4,848 human beings) served by our prevention programs since inception four years ago, only 3.7% have ended up in shelter. And the average cost of prevention services per family or individual is around $1,000.