by Rabbi David Fainsilber and Father Rick Swanson
Photo credit: Jessica Ojala
It was the day after Christmas in 2017 with temperatures hovering at 12 degrees at 12 noon with a stiff north wind. VPR personality Mark Breen in his Eye on the Sky Forecast was predicting four straight days of sub-zero temperatures. Father Rick Swanson of St. John’s in the Mountains Episcopal Church said: “enough is enough.” After working closely with local service agencies, the Vermont Agency of Human Services, American Red Cross, and with the blessing of parish leadership, the church opened its doors as an emergency warming shelter on the evening of December 27. It began with one guest that first night, but quickly grew.
While the initial burden of housing the guests was not simple, once you see folks come in from the cold, you can’t just turn them out into the cold again.
Father Rick approached Rabbi David Fainsilber of the Jewish Community of Greater Stowe, as well as leaders at the United Church of Johnson and Second Congregational Church of Hyde Park to share the leadership of the emergency warming shelter. Together, those first few months, we all opened our doors and shared the responsibility of housing and feeding those who needed a warm place to stay and hot cup of soup to eat. Eventually, we partnered with the Lamoille County Sheriff Roger Marcoux and opened the doors of the “Yellow House” in Hyde Park. Businesses, social services, law enforcement, interfaith community members, and many more joined together.
When we closed that first season, we knew that the community had spoken loud and clear: enough is enough. The emergency warming shelter became the Lamoille Community House (LCH).
Last year, as the pandemic raged and the need for help only grew further, LCH served no less than 120 people, including 30 children, and provided more than 10,000 hours of service to guests staying at the shelter and in area hotels.
This coming 2021-2022 winter season, the doors will once again open at the Yellow House in time for the snow to fall, marking the fifth year of operations. LCH now has an incredible board, an executive director, shelter manager, a housing navigator, day and night staff, and a wide ranging group of volunteers and local donors that help make sure that no one in our county needs to spend another winter night outdoors ever again.
In addition to safe shelter and warm meals, LCH provides connection to social services and, most importantly, dignity, hope, and a path to possibility.
The ultimate goal is to secure stable housing, but with a housing vacancy rate of around 1% in Lamoille County, the housing is just not there yet. In other words, LCH is an essential service, the difference between life and death.
The need continues as we head into another winter of uncertainty. The lease on the Yellow House in Hyde Park is coming to an end after winter concludes. LCH is actively looking for a permanent home that can operate 365 days a year.
Regardless of one’s faith or difference of opinion, there is a moral imperative as clear as the light of day that this essential service to our community must carry on. And we, all of us, are responsible for the basic health and wellbeing of our neighbors.
This past Sunday, October 10 marked World Homeless Day, a day dedicated to raising awareness about homelessness in our community. Please take a moment to learn more, join us, and give at www.lamoilleshelter.org.
Rabbi David Fainsilber, spiritual leader of the Jewish Community of Greater Stowe
Father Rick Swanson, rector of Saint John’s in the Mountains Episcopal Church