Advocates for Vermonters who do not have secure housing say the return of cold weather should underscore the need for policies that protect vulnerable populations.
Many state leaders have described Vermont as being in a housing crisis, especially with its affordable housing stock.
“A lot of us haven’t been able to call anything home for years,” said April Metcalf, who started experiencing homelessness when her dad died.
Metcalf remembered she and her mom couldn’t afford to keep their home in the Northeast Kingdom without her father.
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From that point, Metcalf said she went to a shelter, and even a tent in the woods for a while.
She’s now in a no-frills hotel under a program the state turned to early in the pandemic to get people out of cramped shelters or situations like couch surfing. The aim was to spread those folks out, to slow COVID-19 infections.
This week, Gov. Phil Scott announced that hotel and motel vouchers, the cost of which FEMA is covering for now, will be extended through the end of the year.
The administration said 1,100 adults and 400 children were in the program as of last week.
“This is a temporary fix so we’re okay and not freezing to death,” Metcalf said of the hotel, emphasizing how it is not the kind of permanent situation she hopes to one day be in. “If this hotel wasn’t here, they’d be counting many dead bodies — it would be horrifying.”
More on Homelessness
Policy advocates have been camping out on the steps of the Vermont State House in Montpelier this week, insisting the governor do more.
Advocate Brenda Siegel of Newfane, who previously ran for governor, wants to see measures including an even longer expansion of the hotel and motel program, and opening it up to additional Vermonters who are currently unhoused.
“That population is the population that’s being left behind here right now,” Siegel told NECN.
The Scott administration said at its regular COVID-19 media briefing Tuesday that it has been a national leader in moving unhoused people into safer situations during the pandemic.
“The governor is recommending an investment that I’ve never seen in the state of Vermont,” Human Services Secretary Mike Smith said of the Scott administration’s proposed $250 million expenditure of federal recovery money on building affordable housing units and remodeling existing properties to create affordable units.
Additionally, the administration’s plan calls for expanding shelter capacity and continuing to move people out of hotels to separate emergency rental assistance programs.
Scott called on the Vermont Legislature this week to release $179 million in federal recovery funds to get the ball rolling on permanent affordable housing projects.
“The best thing for our homeless population is permanent housing,” Scott said Tuesday. “Not temporary housing. Not rent by each night. It’s permanent housing.”
Siegel said she will continue her calls for additional safeguards for Vermonters experiencing homelessness who are not served by current programs. She said she will do so both in her demonstration on the steps of the State House and on her Twitter feed, @BrendaForVT.
April Metcalf said she hopes social service agencies can help her get into a secure apartment. In the meantime, she said she is really thankful for the hotel, for now.
Metcalf said she is optimistic that, long-term, the attention of lawmakers and advocates on the issue of affordable housing can make a real difference for many in need.
“Time will tell,” Metcalf said.