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Exercise Your Savings Skills and Get Your Finances in Shape This Fall!

SEVCA is inviting participants to register for its upcoming “Financial Fitness” workshop series, to be held in Brattleboro starting September 10. This 7-part workshop series will help participants improve their relationship with money, develop strong financial habits, and take steps toward prosperity. SEVCA’s instructors will utilize tools from the acclaimed Your Money Your Goals curriculum developed by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Topics covered include: saving, budgeting, credit, home buying, insurance, purchasing a car, and saving for college. The instructor will also provide individualized financial coaching, as needed, to help participants and their families become more financially secure.

The workshop series is free and open to the public. It will be held every Tuesday at Red Clover Commons, 30 Fairground Rd., Brattleboro from 5:30-7 p.m. from September 10 through October 22. Pre-registration is required. Please call to register at 802-722-4575, ext. 151, or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Those who complete the course may be eligible to join SEVCA’s SaVermont matched savings program. Participants earn a match for every $1 they save (up to $1,000) if they save a minimum of $25 each month toward home purchases or repairs, obtaining education or job training, starting or enhancing their own business, or car purchases or repairs needed for transportation to work.

Last Updated: August 19, 2019

Keeping Kids and Families Fed During the Summer Months

3SquaresVT helps make sure that people in need don’t go hungry by providing monthly food assistance to eligible families and individuals through a user-friendly EBT card. Eligibility is determined by household income; for example, a family of four with a monthly income of up to $3,970 may be eligible. SEVCA’s Family Services staff are available by appointment to assist households to apply for 3SquaresVT. To schedule an appointment, call 1-800-464-9951. To apply for 3SquaresVT benefits online, visit www.vermontfoodhelp.com.

The children of families who receive 3SquaresVT are automatically eligible for free school lunches, which can help kids maintain their health and their ability to learn. But summer can be a difficult time for many families to meet their nutritional needs. Fortunately, free summer meal programs for children are offered in many communities. Visit https://www.hungerfreevt.org/summer-meals-site-lists/ to find a summer meals program, or call SEVCA for help locating a program.

Eating the right food is critical to good health, and additional resources are available to qualified households to help increase the volume of fresh fruits and vegetables in their diets, such as Farm-to-Family coupons and farmer’s market incentive programs.

Farm-to-Family coupons help families in need purchase fresh produce at farmers markets. SEVCA is distributing coupon books worth $30 each to eligible low-income households on a first-come, first served basis. Unfortunately, walk-ins cannot be accommodated. The coupon books go quickly, so interested families and individuals are urged to contact SEVCA at (800) 464-9951 as soon as possible to apply. Coupons must be requested prior to September 30 and redeemed by October 31.

In addition, 3SquaresVT has partnered with farmers’ markets across the state to make sure those receiving benefits can use them to get plenty of fruits and vegetables. To locate a farmers’ market near you that accepts 3SquaresVT, visit: https://www.hungerfreevt.org/farmers-markets-3squaresvt/. Most farmers’ markets also offer a program called “Crop Cash” to 3SquaresVT recipients—for every dollar in 3SquaresVT benefits spent, they will provide $1 of free tokens for use at the market, up to a value of $10/day. Ask if your local farmer’s market participates in the “Crop Cash” program.

Grant Awards Leave Shortfall in Homelessness Assistance

The Housing Opportunity Program (HOP), administered by the Vermont Office of Economic Opportunity, recently awarded $246,485 for state fiscal year 2019-20 to fund SEVCA’s homelessness prevention and re-housing efforts. The award provides $177,781 for services in the Brattleboro-area Agency of Human Services (AHS) District, $44,204 in the Hartford (Upper Valley) AHS District, and $24,500 in the Springfield AHS District. The award is renewable for one year (with the exception of $26,900 in GA Alternatives funding which is provided for one year at a time), for a total possible award of $466,070 over two years. It will enable SEVCA’s Family Services program to continue to provide housing assistance and case management services to at-risk and homeless families throughout our Windham and Windsor County service area. However, the funding available for direct assistance to help re-house or prevent people from becoming homeless will be close to $10,000 less than last year, prompting SEVCA to launch a fundraising appeal to overcome this deficit and ensure we are able to respond to the continuing need for help (See article, below).

The HOP application included a request for continuation of the General Assistance (GA) Alternatives Pilot Program, which, for the past three years, has funded a part-time case manager to work directly with homeless families and individuals sheltered in motels in the Brattleboro area. The goal is to shorten their motel stay by supporting them to locate a more permanent housing solution as soon as possible. This position was continued for the coming year, but our request to expand this program to the Upper Valley was not funded.

Granite United Way also recently announced their grant awards, which included a $17,500 grant to SEVCA’s Family Services department to provide fuel and housing assistance to Windsor County households in crisis. GUW funding enables SEVCA to help households that might not meet the strict state program eligibility criteria for the HOP or Crisis Fuel programs, and is essential to meeting the needs of vulnerable Windsor County households. Unfortunately, the award was less than the $20,000 granted to SEVCA last year.

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SEVCA Seeks Donations to Help Prevent Homelessness and Re-house the Homeless

Homelessness, or the imminent threat of homelessness, is a persistent problem affecting hundreds of area households annually, yet the funding required to address it doesn’t come close to matching the need. Affordable housing is scarce, and housing costs routinely far exceed the recommended 30% of income for many Windham and Windsor County households, putting pressure on scarce resources and leading to a housing crisis for many. SEVCA is currently seeking private donations for its eviction-prevention and rehousing work, to help cover the gap in funding due to recent reductions in grants for this purpose (See article, above).

According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, from 2007 – 2017 in Vermont, the number of severely cost-burdened households (paying over 50% of their income on housing) increased by 28%, coinciding with an 18% increase in homelessness over the period (including a 21% increase in family homelessness and a 47% increase in homelessness among veterans). The most recent report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition (2019) found Vermont to have the 9th most expensive housing in non-metro areas in the nation; and the 6th highest gap in the nation between the average renter wage and the “Housing Wage” (the hourly wage needed to rent affordably).

SEVCA helps re-house or prevent homelessness for over 400 Windham and Windsor County households annually through a combination of private and public resources, providing crisis intervention, counseling, case management, and financial assistance to help them secure or maintain a safe, affordable place to live. We also provide budget counseling and follow-up services to improve the financial stability of these low-income households, and work closely with local coalitions of service providers to effectively coordinate services.

Donations from the public, businesses, and other non-governmental sources are critically important because they give SEVCA the flexibility to meet the complex needs of those who might not qualify for help from more restrictive funding sources. To donate to SEVCA’s Housing Assistance Fund, used exclusively to provide direct assistance to households at risk of, or already experiencing, homelessness, CLICK HERE (indicate the purpose of the donation in the ‘notes’ section), or send checks to SEVCA Housing Assistance, 91 Buck Drive, Westminster, VT 05158. For more information about donating, contact Becky Himlin, Director of Planning and Development, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

New Housing Resource Center in Brattleboro

SEVCA’s new Housing Resource Center (HRC) in Brattleboro opened in June in an adjoining space to SEVCA’s Family Services office at 15 Grove Street. Equipped with computers, copier, and furniture (in large part due to local donations), the HRC now opens its doors during selected hours weekly to all Brattleboro-area households searching for housing, particularly low-cost or subsidized housing. We expect it will be used extensively by SEVCA’s clients as well as those working with other agencies serving low-income clients.

Activities at the HRC will educate and empower clients with a holistic knowledge of local and state housing resources. Visitors can use the computers, browse housing listings, receive help to fill out applications for housing, and access other materials about community resources and public benefits programs for which they may be eligible.

The space will also periodically host the 4-session “How To Be A Successful Renter” tenant education program. SEVCA has strong relationships with area landlords, who have shown that they are much more willing to rent to a tenant with a poor rental history when they are able to show they’ve completed a tenant education program and achieved a certificate. We also expect to provide SEVCA’s 7-session Financial Fitness course at this location periodically throughout the year.

We envisage the HRC to be a critical component of the effort by the Brattleboro-area Continuum of Care to reduce homelessness. SEVCA will recruit and train volunteers to help run the center; we plan to offer volunteer opportunities to homeless and formerly-homeless individuals, among others. For more information, or to volunteer at the Housing Resource Center, please call 579-1314 x102.

 

New Grant for Healthy Homes Initiative

The Fanny Holt Ames and Edna Louise Holt Fund just awarded a 3-year grant for $270,000 to SEVCA for a new Healthy Homes Initiative. The program will serve vulnerable, low-income residents of Windham and Windsor Counties whose inadequate housing conditions exacerbate existing health conditions and/or represent serious health or safety risks. This includes elderly and/or disabled residents who require home repairs or modifications to prevent falls and enable them to age in place; residents suffering from asthma, COPD, or other respiratory illnesses worsened by poor indoor air quality; and other low-income households that cannot afford the repairs needed to ensure a safe, healthy home.

The Healthy Homes Initiative represents an evolution of SEVCA’s Emergency Home Repair Program (EHRP), which has been in operation for the past 10 years. Introducing the Healthy Homes Initiative creates a tighter link between improvements to the home environment and their effect on the health conditions of vulnerable residents in our service area, thus ensuring effective targeting of resources and demonstrably greater positive health outcomes. It also allows for a more comprehensive intervention to address multiple needs for repairs and improvements affecting the health of residents within the home, extending beyond the limited scope of our existing funding sources.

Eligible home repairs and improvements for the program will include (but not be limited to): pest control, mold remediation, Vermiculite removal, vents, air filters, carpet removal, debris removal, lead abatement, floor and stair repairs/replacements, addition of ramps and handrails, emergency plumbing repairs (e.g. frozen/burst pipes), water quality interventions (wells, failed water and/or septic systems), correcting code violations, roof repair, and other repairs necessary to maintain integrity of the building envelope.

Repairs/improvements are expected to average $2,000 - $2,500, but the cost for each home will vary due to the extent of the need. Approximately 65 households per year will be served, and both homeowners and renters may be eligible, including mobile home owners. For more information about the Healthy Homes Initiative, please contact Ed Hogan, EHRP Coordinator, at (800) 464-9951.

WHY ARE HEALTHY HOMES IMPORTANT?

While most U.S. health care expenditures have emphasized access to clinical health care and treatment, growing evidence argues for a greater focus on the social determinants of health; i.e., the social and environmental factors that influence individuals’ health status, the efficacy of treatment plans, and health care costs. Social determinants of health include whether individuals have access to basic needs such as safe and adequate housing, nutritious food, livable income, good education, etc. An estimated 70% of an individual’s health status is linked to environmental and behavioral factors like these, according to the New England Healthcare Institute (https://www.nehi.net/publications/32-the-boston-paradox-lots-of-health-care-not-enough-health/view). Meanwhile, increases in chronic conditions that should be easily treated, such as asthma, and preventable accidents such as falls, are major factors in increasing healthcare costs. A variety of interventions have been developed to address different facets of this problem, among them Healthy Homes initiatives. These have typically focused on relatively low-cost interventions for individuals suffering from chronic conditions caused or exacerbated by poor-quality indoor environments or individuals at risk of preventable injuries or other avoidable negative health outcomes.

In 2009, the National Center for Healthy Housing and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reviewed the evidence and assessed which interventions could be considered evidence-based, versus those that needed more field evaluation or formative research, or those that were ineffective (https://nchh.org/resource-library/report_housing-interventions-and-health_a-review-of-the-evidence.pdf). Many of the interventions identified were featured in various Healthy Homes initiatives that began to be implemented around the country.

Our program, focusing on improving the quality of living environments for low-income, vulnerable individuals, is expected to have a lasting effect on improved health outcomes for people who lack the resources to address the issues that have a negative impact on their health or increase their health risks.

“Nothing could be worse than the fear that one had given up too soon, and left one unexpended effort that might have saved the world. ”

Jane Addams (U.S. social worker, 1860-1935)