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Vermont winter shelter to open early

BRATTLEBORO — A winter shelter for the homeless in Brattleboro will open Sunday, a month earlier than usual because of increased demand that some say was brought about by federal budget cuts.

Lucie Fortier, who runs the daytime shelter at the Brattleboro Area Drop In Center, said that when she arrives at 8 each morning, there are usually up to 10 people waiting to get in.

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‘‘A lot of them are sleeping along the riverbank; some are camping under the bridges,’’ she said. ‘‘Our people need to have a safe place to sleep.’’

The Drop In Center also sponsors the overnight winter shelter in the Baptist Church on Main Street, Vermont Public Radio reported. That shelter is funded by donations and a state grant and is run by volunteers, social service agencies, and the local interfaith clergy group.

People are calling wanting to know when the shelter will be open and asking if there is any place else they can stay until it opens, Fortier said.

‘‘The demand is just there,’’ Fortier said.

But there aren’t many options, because programs have been squeezed by federal budget cuts and federal housing subsidies are frozen, she said. In Brattleboro, an anti-camping ordinance and a crackdown on railroad property has made it even harder to live outside.

In Brattleboro, the number of homeless has gone up 12 percent.

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While the numbers of homeless were fairly level statewide over the past year, in Brattleboro, the number has gone up 12 percent, said Angus Chaney, who chairs the Vermont Council on Homelessness.

The Brattleboro winter shelter served 172 people in the six months it was open last year, including five families and at least eight children, Fortier said.

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