John Graham Homeless Shelter
John Graham Homeless Shelter on Main St. in Vergennes, Vermont acts as a small community and long term safe-haven for those in need. It offers mental health services as well as resources for drug addiction, employment and emotional support. It houses up to 25 residents at a time, including families and individuals. They also have transitional housing at additional buildings in the surrounding area.
Samantha Shelby and her newborn son Hunter have lived at the shelter since February of this year. Hunter’s brother, Samantha’s first son, was adopted several years ago. “I watched the life leave your face and you turned into somebody completely different,” recalled her father when she signed the adoption papers. After that “I fell into a dark abyss,” she said.
After time in prison, sobering up, and another child, she made her way to John Graham Shelter--“It took me the first two months of living here to realize okay, they actually care…I actually feel like it’s a family here.” She says she will be able to get a place of her own with Hunter within the next few months.
Samantha went to jail because she said she picked up the charges for her ex boyfriend she was in love with. She had also been struggling with alcohol, cocaine and heroin addiction in her early 20’s; When in prison, she sobered up. “It gave me time to reflect on myself and to think...there [prison], you’re just a last name.” She is now 28 and is almost four years sober. She says that “my biggest dream is for him [Hunter] to finish school...I want him to be whatever he wants to be.”
John Graham Shelter also has a food and supplies pantry full of canned and packaged food, blankets, towels, children’s clothes and other resources located on the second floor of the shelter. There is also large communal kitchen in the shelter where each has a cabinet for their own food. Everyone shares the common room and dining area and have private bedrooms. It is a very open community, and many residents’ children are often playing in the living room or drawing wall decor.
The campout to end homelessness happens every year. Volunteers set up camp by Middlebury Falls for the fundraiser on December 3, organized by the shelter. Volunteers from surrounding communities raise money and camp outside to spread awareness.
A vigil is held before the campout where the participants gather in the town of Middlebury. There are candles and signs for the cause, and different speakers from the shelter who bring the crowd together.
After the Vigil, the group gathers in the community church, where a home-cooked meal, prepared in the shelter, is served to everyone participating. Local high school students were also volunteering at the camp out, and enjoying a home-cooked meal before sleeping in the cold.
Seen here is the daughter of a refugee mother from Nigeria who used to live at the Shelter. They arrived speaking no English with no place to live--they are now living independently and are fluent in English, attending the camp-out to show support.
The campfire is set up right after the dinner, and featured here is a donor and a board member of the shelter.
Kate Schirmer-Smith, the co-director of clinical services at the shelter now provides mental health counseling at the shelter, and has worked all across Vermont in a variety of different settings. “You need to sometimes accept the fact that you can’t always help someone,” she says, but believes that “everyone deserves a chance, and if you give them that chance, and show you care, it can really leave an impact on someone.”
Peter Kellerman is the Co-Director of Housing at the Shelter. He runs part of the shelter, and played a large role in making the camp-out possible.