MONTPELIER, Vt. (WFFF) — Gov. Phil Scott’s two extensions of the Emergency Motel Housing Program have addressed some of the concerns voiced by activists and state lawmakers, but it hasn’t stopped calls for Vermont to do more for the homeless community.
In July, the state extended the motel voucher program for families with children, the disabled, pregnant women, and other vulnerable people, and gave $2,500 checks to those no longer eligible. Scott later extended the program for those still eligible until October 21, and now until December 31.
On Tuesday, advocates called for the program to last through the winter and include those who lost access to the state-paid motel rooms this summer. “The vast majority of Vermonters who were kicked out of the GA Motel Program in July are on the street now,” said Brenda Siegel, an advocate and former candidate for governor. “Not in permanent housing, not in shelters. I am just floored that this governor is not even considering a safety plan for a population that he exited to terrible outcomes.”
About 700 people were forced to leave motel housing in July when eligibility was tightened. On Monday, Scott and his administration extended the program due to the continued impact of COVID in Vermont and out of a desire to keep the most vulnerable Vermonters housed as the days get colder.
However, opening it back up to a wider population doesn’t appear to be on the table. Scott said the hotel-motel program was always a short-term solution. “It’s not something that’s sustainable,” he said. “The best thing for our homeless population is permanent housing. Not temporary housing, not rent-by-night—it’s permanent housing.”
Among other things, the administration has proposed moving those in the motel rooms to longer-term motel rentals also to be paid for with federal rescue funds with a goal of providing more permanent housing in the future. About 950 households are now in motels with the number of rooms at capacity as tourism has increased, said Department for Children and Families Commissioner Sean Brown.
In the meantime, some Vermont municipalities are doing what they can to take care of people who are out on the streets. The city of Montpelier recently passed a homelessness relief package to provide hotel rooms for those who aren’t in the emergency program.
City Councilor Conor Casey believes municipalities shouldn’t have to take on that burden. “It’s more than dignity, it’s lives that are on the line,” Casey said. “Snow is going to start falling at any time, and we’re not going to sit by and watch our neighbors do this, and again, it shouldn’t be a municipal responsibility but it is because the safety net is broken as far as the state is concerned.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.