Teen organizes sleep-out in Bennington, urges governor to help homeless

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BENNINGTON, Vt. (NEWS10) — In an effort to combat homelessness in the state, Vermont currently rents out hotel rooms for people to stay in. The program uses federal funds.

The program, however, is set to expire on October 21 and could put people back on the streets. This is why 17-year old Addie Lentzner is taking to the streets of Bennington. Lentzner plans a sleep-out in conjunction with a sleep-out happening in the state capital.

Lentzner is urging Vermont Governor Phil Scott to continue the state’s housing assistance program. “Over the past year, during COVID, I think there were about 2,000 people who were housed in motels,” Lentzner says, “so we really saw homelessness numbers jump a lot and so there are a lot of people in Vermont who are experiencing homelessness. 

One man, Leo Leslie, has experienced homelessness firsthand. He is one of the scores of people who were housed in state-rented accommodations, and says that for many, the hardest part is actually getting to an available hotel. “They don’t supply rides. Which I think they should. I think they should give them a cab so they’re safe,” Leslie says, “They’re out of harm’s way and I don’t find what I found quite a few times.” 

Leo says he has unfortunately found friends dead because they had no shelter from the elements.

Currently, there is an 84-day limit on how long a person can stay in one of the state-rented rooms. The current housing assistance extension is set to expire Thursday, October 21st if the governor does not extend assistance again.

In June, Vermont ended emergency housing for the homeless population because the program is not sustainable, hotel capacity is shrinking and it was never meant to be a permanent solution, according to Human Services Secretary Mike Smith.

“This was possible because the public health and travel restrictions essentially closed Vermont tourism and hotels and motels stepped up,” Smith said during a coronavirus briefing. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is reimbursing the state for the nearly $79 million costs of the program, he said. It was projected to rise to $108 million in the fiscal year 2022 if changes weren’t made while federal reimbursement is uncertain, he said.

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