This is what the Rutland Herald had to say about a plan to address homelessness in Vermont:
While protests and encampments, including one on the steps of the State House, are raising awareness to the homelessness crisis in Vermont, the Scott administration rolled out a plan to address the housing needs of vulnerable Vermonters.
The plan already is generating criticism and concern. Time is critical. In higher elevations of Vermont on Monday, snow was falling.
The plan requires fully funding Gov. Phil Scott’s $249 million Housing Recovery Plan.
In part, the proposal includes:
— Extending to the current pause until Dec. 31, to ensure that the most vulnerable Vermonters remain housed during Vermont’s inclement winter. During the continued pause, GA clients will still be required to recertify eligibility, receive housing support services and work on their housing plan. The pause can be implemented due to the extension of FEMA funding at no cost to the state.
Providing transportation for eligible GA participants when no rooms are available within the district.
— Understanding who is in motels and what barriers exist to exiting.
— Transitioning motel guests to Emergency Rental Assistance Program for long-term motel rentals.
— Sustaining the Rapid Resolution Housing Initiative beyond the Coronavirus Relief Fund expiration. (Almost 600 households have used funds from the initiative to address housing barriers and increase housing options.)
— Establishing a Rental Risk Mitigation Program to provide landlords and motels with an incentive and added security to work with tenants receiving rental subsidy.
— Enhancing the Vermont Housing Incentive Program, which has aided more than 340 rental units for people experiencing homelessness.
In addition, while shelter capacity has increased above pre-COVID levels, more than 200 winter shelter beds have been lost statewide. Motel capacity remains strained, with no capacity for GA clients in many districts regularly. The proposal would expand shelter capacity in high needs areas.
“There is immediate and long-term work ahead and we look forward to implementing an emergency housing system that is sustainable past State Fiscal Year 2022,” states the release announcing the proposal.
The Republican governor — whose administration has come under fire by critics for not acting fast enough or showing enough compassion on the homelessness issue — put the onus to solve the problem onto lawmakers: “To make this plan a reality, we’ve proposed to the legislature historic investments in housing to help people move out of homelessness, benefiting them and their communities,” the release stated.
At one point this summer, there were more than 850 individuals being housed in Vermont hotels and motels.
Six months ago, in this space, we cautioned that kicking the can down the road (especially when weather was warmer) was going to be short-sighted, at best. News media across the state has had articles detailing the extent to which the homeless problem was going to hit critical mass again between fiscal deadlines and Mother Nature’s march toward winter.
In recent days, we have been inundated with calls for coverage of the pressing issue (via the protests and encampments), as well as a letter-writing campaign that has included the homeless, high school students, activists and the elderly.
The administration’s plan addresses some of the issues. It fails, of course, to address many of the root causes of homelessness in Vermont: affordability, livable wage, workforce development.
Unfortunately, those discussions can wait (probably until the next election cycle for governor and legislators next year) but suffice it to say, politics are about to be play out to the frustration of advocates for the homeless, critics of this administration, critics of the Democratic leadership at the State House, and Vermonters homeless and not.
Despite the immediacy of the issue, it will be stated — and rightly so — this proposal, albeit bold for a Republican governor, does not go far enough. Moreover, it shifts the potential blame if it fails on lawmakers who will be hard-pressed to give it their legislative blessing.
The answer lies in the impossible: Lawmakers, the administration, communities across the state, as well as stakeholders like social service organizations, need to convene in order to come up with guidelines and answers. Real answers — not political hot potatoes. The resolution is not a patch.