From Volunteers to Visionaries

COTS was founded in 1982 by volunteers as a community response to the newly emerging homeless population. The volunteers had a simple goal: Keep people from freezing to death. We carry forward our founders’ abiding faith in a better world and their unwavering belief in the dignity and the infinite promise of every human life.


The story of COTS begins in 1982, when concerned community members and organizations come together to address the needs of the growing homeless population in Burlington. These volunteers, now called the Committee on Temporary Shelter, prepare for the Vermont winter, which can be deadly for people without shelter.

On Christmas Eve, they open the doors, offering single adults overnight shelter in the Sara Holbrook Community Center. In their first six months, COTS volunteers provide shelter for 94 people.


COTS incorporates as a nonprofit organization, extends to a year-round operation, and takes its first steps toward providing a full range of services for people who are homeless and marginally housed.

COTS purchases the former Wilson Hotel on Church Street to preserve affordable downtown housing and to give the Waystation emergency shelter a permanent home adjacent to the Wilson.

COTS launches the Streetwork Program to help people find housing, jobs and medical and mental health services.


Child poverty, lack of affordable housing, and income inequality are on the rise nationwide. COTS begins a new program to care for the increasing number 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, which serves up to five families at a time.

COTS opens the Daystation, a daytime drop-in center for adults with help from the Community Health Center. Guests receive counseling and support services from COTS case managers and staff, and the integrated Homeless Healthcare Project connects guests to the services of the Community Health Center and the Safe Harbor Clinic.


About 1,000 people tour the shelters and learn about homelessness during the first COTS Walk. This turns into an annual event and cornerstone of COTS community education and fundraising.


COTS opens St. John’s Hall, a 22-unit residence, 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 single-parent households for up to two years.


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 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 launch the Rental Opportunity Center (ROC), which connects qualified candidates with landlords who accept Section 8 (federal housing subsidy) vouchers.

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.


COTS purchases a 200-year-old brick building on Main Street to create emergency shelter for families with children. The Main Street Family Shelter can host up to 10 families at a time.


COTS shelters operate at overflow in the summer. During the economic downturn, growing numbers of homeless families and individuals turn to COTS for help. COTS works to secure a space that can be converted into safe, temporary shelter.

Amid economic turmoil, COTS opens the Housing Resource Center, launching its $250,000 homeless prevention fund. The new program helps 351 households avert homelessness during its first year.


Champlain College grants COTS the use of a building it recently purchased to use temporarily as a shelter for up to 10 families (on the second floor) and 16 adults (on the first floor). The overflow programs are known as Champlain Family Shelter and Eagles Nest for homeless adults. These programs operate until 2012.

COTS begins construction 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 Burlington’s historic 95 North Avenue building on December 31. This facility becomes the home of COTS’s prevention program (the Housing Resource Center), family services, administration, and development.

Cookies for Good launches in the community. This project began in 2008 when Cabot Creamery approached COTS with the idea for a “bake sale every day for COTS.” Sugarsnap Catering partners in 2010 to make it happen. 35 percent of all cookie sales through Sugarsnap supports COTS shelter and prevention programs.


COTS cuts the ribbon on its brand-new facility for veterans in Winooski, Canal Street Veterans Housing. Constructed in conjunction with Housing Vermont, the multi-story apartment building provides transitional and permanent housing for formerly homeless veterans. (By 2020, the need for this service dramatically drops due to the welcomed decrease in veterans experiencing homelessness and an increase in permanent-housing options for those who are.)


On July 4, a violent storm destroys the COTS Daystation, our community’s only daytime shelter for homeless adults. Through the summer and early fall, COTS continues to operate the program from two temporary relocation sites while exploring suitable short-term and long-term options.

COTS launches two new programs: COMPASS and Home Again. COMPASS (COMPrehensive Assistance toward Self Sufficiency) provides credit risk guarantees for people who are able to pay rent but have damaged rental or credit histories that create an obstacle to obtaining housing.

COTS launches two new programs: COMPASS and Home Again. Home Again was a pilot program that enabled families to move into apartments leased by COTS, allowing them to immediately begin restoring housing credit and gaining landlord references.


The Family Supportive Housing program debuts. A collaboration among COTS, the Howard Center, and the Vermont Agency of Human Services, this proactive program prevents homelessness by providing housing and clinical supportive services to families at great risk of becoming chronically homeless.

COTS creates the role of Children’s Education Advocate to provide enrichment and academic support for children and parents in family shelters. The Housing Resource Center’s new Opportunity Fund provides short-term stabilization support for low-income working families to prevent the fall into homelessness.


COTS launches the #172vt advocacy campaign to raise awareness of the number of children, specifically students, who are experiencing homelessness in Vermont.


COTS operates the Winter Warming Shelter from November 2016 to April 2017 through a partnership with the Vermont Agency of Human Services. COTS offers this low-barrier shelter with more than 40 beds in addition to year-round emergency shelters.


COTS opens its fully renovated 95 North Avenue housing and program facility. The second floor now includes affordable housing. The Daystation on the first floor offers free laundry, showers, bunkrooms for respite, and computers for job searching, apartment hunting, and communicating. The Housing Resource Center is located on the first floor. On our third floor are administrative offices and two conference rooms available for rent.

COTS launches the Housing Navigation team as part of the Housing Resource Center. These staffers work with guests to find sustainable, affordable, permanent housing, and related resources.


COTS gives the Waystation emergency shelter a Trauma-Informed Design makeover. The 95 North Avenue project receives the Preservation Trust of Vermont Award for outstanding work in preserving Vermont’s architecture. COTS shares this honor and recognition with project partner Housing Vermont and project architects.

The Learning Lab provides tutoring and supports to students in our family shelter to enhance children’s social, emotional, and behavioral development.


COTS gives the Main Street Family Shelter kitchen and dining area a Trauma-Informed Design makeover. COTS revamps its Healthy Snack & Meal Program in our family shelter with the addition of Kids in the Kitchen, a program focused on nutritious eating (particularly vegetables) on a budget.


In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, COTS launches a robust Mobile Outreach Team to provide direct services and support at the hotels where people who were facing homelessness are staying, enabling social distancing and reducing the risk of virus spread.


Created new Children’s Mental Health Liaison position to serve children and parents in family shelter by providing mental health services, therapeutic playgroups, and connections to mental health resources in the community.


Constructed new 16-unit apartment building for formerly homeless families with children.