Few people plan to stay in a homeless shelter.
St. Albans resident Amy Verchereau, 27, didn’t. “You don’t ever think you’re going to get to that point until you do,” she said in an interview Monday.
Verchereau had spent four years staying on and off with friends and family and sleeping on their couches. She became pregnant, and after leaving the home of the child’s father,
Verchereau was on the street for a week in St. Albans. She found people to stay with until one night, where it looked like she would be sleeping outside.
“I had nowhere to go at all,” Verchereau said. “I ran out of every resource possible.”
So, in August of 2012, six months pregnant, she asked to stay at Tim’s House, the area’s homeless shelter on Kingman Street. “When you’re pregnant and if you care about your kid at all, you’ll do whatever you have to,” she said.
Today, almost two years later, Verchereau couldn’t be more grateful to Tim’s House. “I went from being on the street pregnant,” she said, “to having a roof over my head.”
She later added, “They are the reason I am where I am right now”
Where she is
Now, Verchereau is closing in on a year of living in her three-bedroom, two-floor St. Albans apartment with funding from the Vermont Rental Subsidy program. “Compared to being out on the streets, this is luxury for me,” she said. The subsidy covers about 80 percent of the rent, and the remainder, plus Verchereau’s living costs are funded through the Reach Up program.
Verchereau just completed her Licensed Nursing Assistant (LNA) classes and will take a licensing test at the end of the month. She also has gotten back her formerly suspended driver’s license, which allows her to drive the car she now has.
The reason Verchereau began the LNA classes, she said, was because she was unsure if she would have income once her one year state rental subsidy ran out. Plus she said, “I’ve always wanted to do it.”
Fortunately, Verchereau did receive a Section 8 voucher, a federal rental subsidy that will continue aiding Verchereau and her 15-month-old son, Noah, as they find stability. “When I got that letter,” she said, “I was ecstatic. I was very happy.”
Verchereau’s path was not an easy one. She stayed at Tim’s House for a total of eight months, four of them in one of the shelter’s upstairs transitional apartments.
“It’s hard living in a shelter,” Verchereau said. “You’re with other people. I like to be by myself a lot.” She added, “When you’re in a shelter, you don’t have that choice.”
Verchereau also pointed out that while she’s a night owl and likes to sleep during the day, the shelter required her to be up, out and about during daylight hours. “They don’t just let you sit down or do nothing each day,” she said.
While others who stay at the shelter are expected to go to work or find work and also help with chores, Verchereau had what was termed a high-risk pregnancy, and stuck to less strenuous tasks. She helped clean at the shelter, she went to all her doctor’s appointments, and she also worked on completing her GED.
Like others who stay at Tim’s House, she was given housing and service-oriented goals to accomplish throughout her stay. Shelter executive director Linda Ryan said on Monday that each individual works with a “self-sufficiency matrix” to lay down a path for how to move forward.
The Samaritan House attributed the success rate of the shelter in helping people get their own housing – 75 percent – to the strict requirements for living there. “We run a pretty tight ship, and we’ve had huge success with the people we’ve worked with,” she said.
Verchereau acknowledged the beneficial tough-love aspect of the shelter, too. “They encouraged me to push,” she said. “I’m the type of person that needs that push.”
As a result of her efforts, she received Reach Up assistance from the Vermont Department for Children and Families, space in a transitional apartment over the shelter, and belongings for her new baby. And, of course, a Vermont Rental Subsidy to move into her own place.
“They see you’re actively trying and you want to move forward and do better for yourself,” Verchereau said. “I’ve come a long way.”
Both Verchereau and Ryan attributed a lot of Verchereau’s transformation to the relationships built at Tim’s House.
Case managers meet with shelter clients weekly, and monthly once they are on state rental subsidies for a year. Verchereau said she had a special relationship with her first caseworker, who eventually was replaced by a Reach Up caseworker. “[She] and I connected,” Verchereau said. “I have a close relation[ship] with a lot of people there.”
The Samaritan House said in a separate interview Wednesday that healthy relationships are key to shelter clients moving forward. “Folks who come get to build really good relationships with staff and case managers… They get a lot of support. ” In Verchereau’s case, staff worked to help her prepare for her baby, and to provide her with a stable place to live after Noah was born. “I felt after having the baby, the longer she could have getting the intensive support, the better”.
“Sometimes people come from places where they didn’t get a lot of support. It makes them feel good.”
Verchereau said that she really appreciates the connection she has with the Samaritan House, and all the help she has received. She added, “They care, that’s why they’re doing it.”
Someday, said Verchereau, she wants to give back by working for Tim’s House, too. “They helped me so much.”
With a Section 8 voucher in hand and an LNA license pending, Verchereau is taking steps to move forward with her life. Nothing too drastic, though.
“I don’t overload myself. I take little steps and it has gotten me far,” she said.
Verchereau said she was thinking of moving to Chittenden County, so Noah can be closer to his father. “He’s a great dad,’ she said. Verchereau added that she and the father co-parent very well and share time equally with their child.
In the end, Verchereau is trying to provide the best she can for her young son. “My son’s got a good life, he’s happy, he has everything he needs,” she said. “All I want for Noah is for him to have stability.”
Verchereau knows that the stability she and her son have gained in the last two years are thanks in large part to Tim’s House, and also Verchereau’s desire to better her life.
“You have to want to do good,” she said. And because Verchereau and Tim’s House staff and case managers pushed for progress, Verchereau’s life has turned around.
“It’s changed my life completely,” she said. “I’m very thankful.”