Our Citizen Legislature: A Community of Voices

As you may already know, the State of Vermont has a citizen legislature. That means that the Vermonters serving in the state’s government office only serve for part of the year, and most of them have other jobs or are retired. Originally, the annual legislative session was set up in the winter and spring, so that farmers would be able to serve. Today, not just farmers serve but social workers, professors at the University of Vermont, bakers, retirees, and more. They are parents, and grandparents, and they live lives in the communities they represent.

Earlier this month was Pathways Vermont’s annual informational day at the statehouse. We go every year to update legislators on our work, to share our successes and to state our case for more funding for our programs. Our board members, volunteers, staff and service recipients all gather to stand in front of our informational table or to testify in committee rooms.

This year, we are advocating for:

  • Increased funding for the Pathways Vermont Support Line to expand services to 24 hours each year. (We are currently open from 3 pm – 6 am, 7 days a week).
  • Expanded funding for Housing First services to provide statewide coverage to permanently end homelessness for people who are living on the streets and struggling with mental health challenges.

All day, legislators, committee chairs, the Speaker of the House, and even pages stopped by our table to hear about our work. I am impressed anew each year by our body of legislators, their commitment, their hard work, and their accessibility.

The highlight of the day for me was sitting in committee rooms while Jenn Astrella, Jedediah Popp, and Ali Jafari testified. Jenn is a current Pathways tenant in our Housing First program, Jedediah is a former tenant, who has since graduated and now works as a case manager at a local mental health agency, and Ali is an operator on our Pathways Vermont Support Line. Whether it was Jedediah’s harrowing story of addiction and homelessness, Ali’s impassioned plea for more funding for the Support Line, or Jenn’s description of her new apartment and hopes of one day working for Pathways Vermont, every  legislature we met seemed moved by the words of my fellow advocates, many even wiping tears from their eyes.

As we were packing up for the day, and legislators were rushing off to their families, or farms, or to teach, or home offices, I thought how alike this citizens legislature and Pathways Vermont feels in so many ways. How our legislators are who they serve, the same way Pathways Vermont staff and volunteers are who we serve: many who have experienced homelessness, we have experienced mental health and addiction challenges. We are veterans, and we too have felt alone and suicidal. And how at both the statehouse and at Pathways Vermont, there is always so much to do and not enough time to do it, and not enough funding to meet all the needs. But despite the long hours and challenges, there is a burning, shared passion. A passion that drives and energizes. A passion that is about making Vermont a better place. A better place for all of us. Especially for those struggling the most.

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