Students from Rice High School
Last Thursday, four yellow school buses pulled up on to Burlington's Church Street Marketplace, directly in front of city hall. Students from Rice Memorial High School slowly and somberly filed out onto the building's steps, each holding a laminated number, from one to 172 — the number of homeless children in Chittenden County.
The Committee on Temporary Shelter (COTS
) devised the display to bring attention to the issue of childhood homelessness and to launch an action and awareness campaign. Using the hashtag #172vt, COTS will use social media to share facts about childhood homelessness and ways to address the issue. The nonprofit organization is urging others to do the same. This includes using Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest to share images, quotes and facts about homelessness — and to spread the word about the annual COTS Walk
, a fundraiser that takes place this year on Sunday, May 3 .
Nationally, Vermont is among the 10 states with the sharpest rise in homeless students, the US. Department of Education reported last year. Between 2007 to 2013, there was a 34 percent increase in homeless students in the state. But, says COTS executive director Rita Markley, "there's no reminder to us of their presence. It's far too easy to overlook them entirely." Most homeless students are chronically tired, are more likely to get sick than their peers and experience feelings of anxiousness, Markley said while addressing the crowd gathered on Church Street last week.
Other speakers at the event included Catholic Diocese Bishop Christopher Coyne, Vermont Secretary of Human Services Hal Cohen and Governor Peter Shumlin.
"No child in Vermont should wonder whether they're going to have a warm and secure place to live," Governor Shumlin said. "That should be a basic, fundamental right." The governor said he'd directed Cohen to develop a plan to end homelessness in the state.
Rice students were chosen to participate in last week's event because the Catholic high school has been the top fundraising team for the COTS Walk for many years. Rice student council president Griffin Cunningham spoke of how helping those in need is an extension of the school's mission of serving others.
A bright spot in the blustery day came as the event wrapped up, when Markley excitedly announced that a local business owner had just pledged a donation to cover one year of rent for a homeless family.