Daniel Blankenship Interview
We spoke with Daniel Blankenship, the Continuum of Care Program Administrator about his work with the VSHA. Thank you Daniel!
What is your position with the Vermont State Housing Authority and could you talk a bit about your work?
My position at VSHA is as the Continuum of Care Program Administrator. I oversee the Collaborative Applicant functions for the VT Balance of State CoC (dba VT Coalition to End Homelessness), including submitting the annual HUD CoC Notice of Funding Availability application and ensuring that CoC functions and federal requirements are met. The annual HUD CoC NOFA application is a competition of about 400 HUD-recognized CoCs around the country, VT BoS CoC funds are currently over $3.5m. In addition, I administer VSHA’s own CoC grants (Rapid Rehousing and Permanent Supportive Housing “Shelter+Care”) to serve about 200 households each year who are experiencing literal and chronic homelessness.
How do you determine funding allocation and requirements for those funds?
As the VT BoS CoC, the VT Coalition to End Homelessness determines and prioritizes which CoC Program projects to fund. As an individual project applicant, VSHA determines regional and demographic funding allocation based upon the CoCs Point-in-Time Count of the Homeless and the service capacity of local Service Providers. The CoC grants generally pay for rental assistance with the vast majority of service funds needing to be secured by Service Providers, known as a grant “Match”, from other sources (Medicaid Case Management, HOP funds, private donations/fundraising, other funds). Rapid Rehousing serves people experiencing literal homelessness with medium-term rental assistance (up to 24 months). Permanent Supportive Housing serves households who meet the HUD definition of chronic homelessness (12+ literal homelessness and a disabling condition). All CoC Program applicants must be referred/prioritized by the local Coordinated Entry.
Have you seen your position change with the pandemic, and how did the PIT change?
My position changed a lot, I no longer work in the office at all. Virtual meetings have been helpful to stay in touch with community providers around Vermont without driving for hours, but it lacks a personal connection. The PIT was altered because of the pandemic, safety and lack of providers to be able to perform the count. The VT BoS CoC decided to only conduct a shelter count, as an unsheltered count was deemed unsafe and providers are stretched thin as it is. The State General Assistance Motel Program was the largest shelter program, serving approximately 2000 people (normal years it only serves about 200 at a time). We were probably able to get a better full count of homelessness in the State of Vermont because most people were sheltered in the motels, including people who were precariously housed and unknown prior to the COVID pandemic.
Do you think the PIT will be changed going forward?
HUD determines the date (last Wednesday in January), although people have asked for other counts (summer), but there isn’t capacity to do more than the minimum CoC requirements. The 2021 PIT count was a unique situation where the CoC was able to count people precariously housed who were staying in the AHS GA Motel Program, when the PIT normally only captures people experiencing literal homelessness (streets/shelters). If interested and capacity allows, local CoCs are welcome to conduct their own counts during different times of the year and additional populations (precariously housed), but VCEH is a volunteer organization with limited capacity.
Have seen any unique projects done by CoCs during the pandemic?
There was work done in Chittenden County pre-pandemic where the Champlain Housing Trust converted a hotel into a shelter and permanent supportive housing, working with the hospital and local service providers to develop these projects. That provided an example for similar projects to unfold, especially as housing is in such short supply and building new housing in Vermont has too many barriers. Federal pandemic funds created new resources towards housing, VSHA is currently supporting the Windham Windsor Housing Trust in a new motel conversion project in Brattleboro called the Chalet. WWHT renovated the Chalet and can make the units affordable to people exiting homelessness with project-based rental assistance vouchers provided by VSHA to maintain affordability. In addition, fifteen (15) of the new tenants receive wrap-around housing case management from GroundWorks Collaborative, which is funded by a new VSHA CoC Program “A Way Home”. That’s one of the options people are taking, purchasing motels to create housing which is the most affordable and efficient way and limitations with costs. It is most affordable taking a building already built and converting it into housing.
What is your role with the Vermont Coalition to End Homelessness?
As the VSHA is the Collaborative Applicant, over the past 12 years in my role I supported VCEH with fulfilling their HUD requirements as a Homeless Continuum of Care. As a volunteer organization, VCEH has steadily and unevenly grown in strength and ability. They are now at a point of evolving to a new level of independence and autonomy. They’re at the point in trying to hire an interim executive director and take that next step. As a direct HUD grant recipient of a majority of CoC Program funds, VSHA works with providers, directly or indirectly, around the VT Balance of State CoC. VSHA is also the largest Public Housing Authority in Vermont, and first statewide PHA in the country. We are committed to reducing homelessness and housing insecurity in the State, including with partnerships, homeless preferences for our Housing Choice Voucher Program (approximately 5000 vouchers) and operating CoC Programs.
What led you to your current position?
I joined AmeriCorps VISTA to have more meaning in my work and make a difference in the world. It really opened my eyes to community needs and programs, especially in my service in neighborhood organizing in the Old North End of Burlington, a partnership between the City Police Department and Community & Economic Development Office.
Through my AmeriCorps VISTA experiences, I became familiar with the Burlington Community Land Trust (now the Champlain Housing Trust) and got a job as a Cooperative Housing Coordinator. I subsequently worked at an Agency on Aging and the VT Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living, before being laid off as part of a reduction-in-force during the Great Recession. One month later, I started at the Vermont State Housing Authority and the rest, they say, is history.
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