On Tuesday, the Goddard College radio show “Gathering Peace” interviewed a city mayor and homeless shelter co-director to discuss Vermont’s imminent homeless crisis.
Guests to the show included Rick DeAngelis, co-director of Good Samaritan Haven shelter in Barre, along with Montpelier Mayor Jack McCullough, who also is an attorney with Vermont Legal Aid.
“Gathering Peace” radio show host Joseph Gainza began by laying out the homeless dilemma in Vermont and why it may soon grow out of control.
“It’s about to become a lot more serious than it has been,” Gainza said. “The state government has decided to withdraw financial support for homeless people, putting them up in hotels around the state with federal money drying up. The state says it cannot afford to house up to about 2,500 Vermonters.”
The current state budget proposal of $8.5 billion, now on the desk of Gov. Phil Scott, includes massive investments in green energy but lacks the funding for keeping homeless people off the streets.
According to McCullough, American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 funds used to create an emergency housing program is going away, and now the state will have to provide new funding or see potentially thousands of homeless out on the streets.
“The money they’ve used to create this emergency housing program, they did it very well to make this program when the pandemic struck,” he said. “They used federal government ARPA money to do that, and that money has essentially run out.”
McCullough added that while substantial state investments have been made in housing for the future, it seems those facing homelessness now “take second precedence over future housing.”
Current program costing $5,500 a month
DeAngelis commented that the program could be run better.
“We’re aware that it’s been an extremely expensive program and we’re not sure that we even like the model all that much of people living in hotel rooms which are poor quality,” he said.
DeAngelis added that the abrupt end of the funding will lead to a crisis.
“Here we are at a cliff literally of need and suffering — at the end of June, 800 people statewide are going to lose their eligibility,” he said. “… It’s a really terrible situation.”
DeAngelis noted that the cost of the program to house an individual is about $175 per night, which “works out to something in the vicinity of $5,500 [per month].”
Costs could still go up?
DeAngelis suggested that it could end up costing the state more if these newly homeless people end up in other state-funded programs, including for instance hospital stays.
“This ultimately could generate more costs for the state [because] these very vulnerable people will require other supports, either hospitals, police, emergency services,” he said.
Good Samaritan Haven has talked with hotel occupants about to lose their rooms, DeAngelis said, and found that some are looking for safe places to go next, and that others have the additional challenge of caring for children.
“Another said, ‘I would go to a shelter if there was room but I’m not good with crowds,” DeAngelis said.
He added that elderly and disabled people are “a very vulnerable population” and will not be able to camp.
Progressive lawmaker wrote about homelessness
State Rep. Brian Cina, P/D Burlington, was cited during the show as an advocate for additional support for homeless populations. On his Facebook page, Cina posted earlier this month that Vermont should address the crisis by building “housing for all.”
“Vermont has the opportunity to lead the nation in our response to the housing crisis by building housing for all,” Cina wrote. “But instead Vermont policymakers may cause a humanitarian disaster that threatens to undermine our collective recovery by passing a budget that evicts more than 2,800 individuals from hotels to the streets.”
He continued: “At this moment in time, Vermont’s General Assembly must choose between mass unsheltered or housing for all. When we compare the costs versus benefits of this decision, the choice is clear.”
The Tuesday, May 23 program is archived here online.