Mission and History
MISSION STATEMENT AND CORE VALUES
The Committee on Temporary Shelter (COTS) provides emergency shelter, services, and housing for people who are homeless or marginally housed in Vermont. COTS advocates for long-term solutions to end homelessness.
In the value and dignity of every human life.
That housing is a fundamental human right.
That emergency shelter is not the solution to homelessness.
The story of COTS begins in 1982, when a group of concerned community members and organizations first come together to address the needs of the growing homeless population in Burlington.
By October, this group of volunteers, now called the Committee on Temporary Shelter, prepares for the upcoming winter. On Christmas Eve 1982, they open the doors, offering overnight shelter in the Sara Holbrook Community Center for adults without homes. During COTS’ first six months, volunteers help provide shelter for 94 people.
COTS incorporates as a nonprofit organization and expands to a year-round operation.
Within the year, COTS makes its first step toward providing a full range of services for people who are homeless and marginally housed.
COTS moves its overnight shelter for adults to its own space, opening the Waystation Emergency Shelter on lower Church Street in Burlington. COTS also expands to provide affordable housing opportunities for individuals by purchasing the former Wilson Hotel, adjacent to the Waystation on Church Street. The Wilson remains an important permanent-housing option for people moving from life on the streets to sustainable independence in a decent room of their own.
Realizing that a bunk bed and a blanket are not enough for people to make the transition to independence, COTS volunteers and staff also launch the Streetwork Program to help people find housing, jobs and medical mental health services.
COTS begins a new program to combat the ever-increasing problem of entire families without homes.
With the help of the Burlington Community Land Trust, COTS turns an abandoned firehouse on North Champlain Street into the Firehouse Family Shelter. This shelter, now part of COTS Family Services, can serve up to five families at a time, providing them with resources to find permanent housing. School attendance for children staying at the Firehouse stands at 100 percent, compared with the national rate of 43 percent for homeless students.
Also in 1988, with the help of the Community Health Center, COTS opens the Daystation, a daytime drop-in shelter for adults. It incorporates the Homeless Healthcare Project, which connects clients to the services of the Community Health Center and the Safe Harbor Clinic. Daystation staff and COTS case managers provide counseling and support services.
About 1,000 people take part in the first COTS Walk. This annual event becomes a cornerstone of COTS community education and fundraising efforts.
COTS opens St. John’s Hall, an 22-unit, including 18 single-room occupancy (SRO) residences and four apartments, providing affordable housing for the formerly homeless.
St. John’s Hall receives national recognition, winning the Maxwell Award for Excellence from the Fannie Mae Foundation.
COTS launches the Families in Transition program, which provides shelter and on-site social services to nine single-parent households for up to two years. It serves as an example of how COTS strives to provide lasting solutions to homelessness.
COTS receives a Blue Ribbon Best Practice Award from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in recognition of the successful outcomes of COTS’ programs.
The waiting list for the Firehouse Family Shelter begins to grow at an alarming rate. COTS responds by pursuing every available housing option, from apartments to motels to vacant student dorms. Recognizing that families need up to six months to stabilize their lives and succeed in the transition from homelessness to independent living, COTS starts the search for a new site that could provide transitional housing to homeless families with children.
COTS teams with the Burlington Housing Authority (BHA) to address one of the root causes of homelessness in our community: the lack of affordable housing. In April, COTS and BHA launch the Rental Opportunity Center (ROC), which connects qualified candidates with landlords who accept Section 8 (federal housing subsidy) vouchers. More than 100 landlords participate in the program. They can list their apartments for free with a Housing Search Specialist, who works with the landlord to find a qualified tenant. By serving landlords and tenants alike, COTS and BHA help almost 600 families and individuals find safe, affordable housing.
COTS receives the national Gunther Award for developing innovative, effective programs that are models for other communities.
The First United Methodist Church of Burlington donates a neglected rooming house to COTS, the Smith House, which COTS renovates it in order to preserve 10 units of housing for homeless individuals and families. The building, on North Winooski Avenue, provides transitional housing for individuals taking the first step from shelter to housing. It is named the Smith House in honor of Calvin Coolidge Smith, the patron who originally donated the building to the church. Today two families and seven single adults live in this renovated building in downtown Burlington.
On March 11, with the help of key supporters and the State of Vermont, COTS purchases a 200-year-old brick building on Main Street with the goal of providing transitional housing to homeless families with children. The summer is spent on renovations and safety improvements, such as installing sprinklers and a state-of-the-art fire alarm system, and by Nov. 9, the first household is welcomed to the Main Street Family Shelter. The shelter can accommodate up to 10 families with children at a time, tripling COTS’ capacity to shelter families who are homeless. As at the Firehouse Shelter, COTS staff offer housing referrals, case management and ongoing support to help families get back on their feet.
For the first time in COTS’ 26 years, COTS shelters operate at overflow in the summer. With the economic downturn in late 2008, growing numbers of homeless families and individuals turn to COTS for help. The only option is putting up people at outlying motels – a costly alternative that presents significant hardships, especially for homeless families. COTS works diligently that fall to secure a space that could be converted into safe, temporary shelter.
In July, amid great economic turmoil, COTS opens the Housing Resource Center, launching its $250,000 homeless prevention fund. The new program helps 351 households avert homelessness for during its first year.
In February, Champlain College grants COTS the use of a building it recently purchased — the former Eagles Club on St. Paul Street – while it completes the planning and permitting process to convert it into student housing. With a tremendous outpouring of business support, community donations and volunteer labor, the building opens as a shelter for up to 10 families (on the 2nd floor) and 16 adults (on the first floor) just eight weeks later. The overflow programs are known as Champlain Family Shelter and Eagles Nest for homeless adults.
Also in 2009, construction begins on a transitional housing facility in Winooski for 20 homeless veterans, made possible in part by a grant from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
COTS purchases a historic building, 95 North Ave., in Burlington on Dec. 31. This facility is the home of COTS’ prevention program, the Housing Resource Center, as well as COTS’ family services, COTS administration and development.
In January, COTS held the ribbon-cutting on its brand-new facility for veterans in Winooski, Canal Street Veterans Housing. The multi-story apartment building, constructed in conjunction with Housing Vermont, provides two-year transitional housing, not shelter, for formerly homeless veterans. There are 16 units of transitional housing and 12 units of permanent, affordable housing.
On July 4, a violent storm destroyed the COTS Daystation, our community’s only daytime shelter for homeless adults. This facility has been a vital refuge for the homeless in Burlington for nearly 20 years. The Daystation was located one floor below ground level. The difficulty of securing insurance coverage and the risk of future flooding made it impossible for us to return to that location. We continued to operate the program from two temporary relocation sites through the summer and early fall, while we explored suitable short-term and long-term options for the program.
On Oct. 24, 2012, COTS moved the Daystation to an interim location; First United Methodist Church generously offered COTS the use of its parsonage for the Daystation program and services. We plan to create a new permanent space for the Daystation, a space for the most vulnerable members of our community. The Daystation currently resides at 179 S. Winooski Ave. in Burlington.
COTS is a member agency of the United Way of Chittenden County.