This letter is by Brenda Siegel, of Newfane. She is a drug policy and housing activist and was the Democrat nominee for governor in 2022.
The Committee Of Conference has reached an agreement on the budget as it affects people currently utilizing the General Assistance Motel Program. This agreement creates a preventable humanitarian crisis caused by a state sponsored unsheltering of nearly 3000 people, including 500 to 600 children. This is a deliberate and abject failure of our state legislature and governor to care for those who are most vulnerable in our state.
In the past couple of months, nearly 200 people utilizing the program have written to their legislators as well as Senate Protem and Speaker of the House, telling their personal stories and pleading with them to treat their lives with the same value that they give their own values. I can’t imagine any other constituency who would be ignored in such an overt and overwhelming way.
People in power have a responsibility to treat the lives of fellow human beings with dignity and that has not been achieved in the proposed state budget. According to recent data, 10% to 30% of people experiencing unsheltered homelessness will die as a result. That is 300 to 700 of these individuals. We are trading the lives and well being of fellow humans for “other priorities”, because “the program just has to end some time”. We should instead be creating a responsible transition that does not leave people unsheltered.
This legislative session myself and other advocates have offered multiple proposals and plans that would create that transition. Those plans received very little or no consideration. Vermont has the second highest rate of homelessness in the country and we are responding to it by orchestrating an unsheltering of almost all of our most vulnerable.
I have visited 16 hotels and spoken to 1000 of these individuals. Those exited will include people on oxygen, people who have just had surgery, people in recovery, people with mental illness that has finally been stabilized, 500 to 600 children, single moms, people who have devices that need to be plugged in and more. This is one of the most cruel acts that our state government could perpetrate among those who struggle the most with poverty.
When these families are sent outside with nowhere to go, they will be exited to our downtowns, to our communities. Our communities do not have the resources to support a mass unsheltering of people across the state. This will not be a few people without what they need, this will be thousands of individuals who are desperate for survival and our state government will have put them there.
There is no excuse for the suffering and pain that will be caused by this inhumane budget.