State Headliners: Unsheltered homeless Vermonters on the rise

By Guy Page

According to the July 2 Rutland Herald, the Vermont Coalition to End Homelessness reports the number of unsheltered people — living in their cars, tents and other places — saw a 39% increase this year.

The July 20 Valley News reports that a group that usually gives out 40 emergency tents a year has given out 65 this year already, and there are other troubling signs that homelessness in the Upper Valley (mostly Windsor County) is increasing.

Guy Page is affiliated with the Vermont Energy Partnership, the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare, and Physicians, Families & Friends for a Better Vermont.

Seven Days reported May 29 that homeless people living in tents in Chittenden County went up from 17 last year to 48 this year. According to the annual count performed by the Vermont Coalition to End Homelessness, Bennington Countywent from just one unsheltered person in 2018 to 22 in 2019. Many counties reported fewer unsheltered people, or stayed about the same. Statewide, unsheltered people account for about 10% of the total “homeless” population, which also includes people living in shelters, transitional housing, and motels with vouchers.

The July 24 Montpelier Bridge describes growing concerns over downtown loitering and panhandling, with many residents linking it to lack of affordable housing and homelessness. Meanwhile, the woods along the railroad tracks in nearby Berlin are “home” to many temporary shelters.

To be sure the number of unsheltered Vermonters has been higher in recent years – in 2012 the total reported number was almost twice as high. Also, it should be noted that some homeless people prefer the comparative freedom of unsheltered living to the restraints of living in a homeless shelter, which despite obvious advantages in comfort also have more rules. The July 25 Brattleboro Reformer reports that following the rules is the main complaint about Brattleboro’s Prouty homeless shelter.

Still, Vermont’s one-year rise in unsheltered living is reason for concern. Apart from the difficulty posed to the inhabitants, a growth in temporary shelters burdens tax-payer funded social services. As Herald reporter Katie Barcellos noted, “Living in tents, cars and motels often leaves the homeless populations without adequate access to health care, good food and resources, the results of which can mean a heavy tax burden for others for emergency services.”

Also, Vermonters seeing media reports of the unprecedented growth of unsheltered homelessness in West Coast cities can’t help but notice that Vermont law and culture often follows California, for better or worse. Like California, Vermont has generous social services, tolerant policing and local government, expensive housing, and resistance to building housing to meet market demand.

In California, disease, rat infestations, and other public health problems have predictably followed the growth of temporary shelters for the homeless. To date, California seems unable and/or unwilling to take steps to reduce the explosion of homeless encampments. The LA Times reports that some state officials want the Legislature to pass legislation requiring municipalities to ensure a “right to shelter” by building enough permanent shelter to house any homeless person in need. The proposed law is patterned after a New York City ordinance, which may or may not be working – numbers of unsheltered were down by about 2% this year, but there are still about 3600 people sleeping unsheltered, and the city’s total homeless population (sheltered and unsheltered) is 61,000, the highest since the Great Depression, the NY Coalition for the Homeless reports.

Still, New York’s 1-20 sheltered/homeless ratio looks pretty good to San Francisco, where two-thirds of the homeless live unsheltered, according to SFGate.

Statehouse Headliners is intended primarily to educate, not advocate. It is e-mailed to an ever-growing list of interested Vermonters, public officials and media. Guy Page is affiliated with the Vermont Energy Partnership; the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare; and Physicians, Families and Friends for a Better Vermont.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Allan Warren

14 thoughts on “State Headliners: Unsheltered homeless Vermonters on the rise

  1. Where is the data showing they are really “homeless Vermonters”? And not people who came here for free stuff?

  2. State Headliners !! Unsheltered homeless ” Vermonters ” give me a break, most are transients
    from where ever, for all the bleeding hearts that give these people money, stop it, as you’re not
    not helping them or your guilt complex …… you’re being played.

    If you want to help them offer them food & water…….. watch the look you get, those that have a
    pet with them, offer them something for there pet, you’ll get the same look, cash is what they want.

    I have seen multiple panhandlers that look pretty healthy to me and why they are not working
    at a real job, Oh yea that’s because they have no self-esteem and would have half get up and
    get going every day.

    I have also noticed these ” Poor Souls ” most have money a cell phone & cigarettes and an
    adult beverage, while working the SUCKERS !!!

  3. Vermont’s only impediment to follow the progtards of the left coast with street dwellers is our
    cold ass winters. Maybe if we’re going to follow the model of LA we will have to heat the streets to make them more livable year round. We need to have diversity in housing as much as diversity in color…It’s who we are…

  4. In LA, California it has been calculated the 30% are mentally broken, 30% are drug users and the remaining 30% just like living on the street.

    What percentage of the mentally broken…broke themselves with drugs and alcohol. Drugs have a lot to do with homelessness.

    • Justin, your numbers seem very realistic. In Manchester, NH, the mentally ill get released from State care and often stay in town. Mental illness and run-ins with the legal system are part of the breakdown of our health system. It impacts all of us.

  5. If the homeless are trespassing, loitering, panhandling or being a nuisance or disturbance, perhaps a jail cell would be a good shelter. If you do not want the drugs and crime that come along with them, some tough rules and actual enforcement must happen and soon. You do not want this bad look to overtake Vermont. Trust me, I’m from Tampa Bay Florida.

    • Vermont already has a ‘bad look’ – too late to fix that. I hope the whole state is over-run with panhandlers and trespassers, selling drugs and crapping on the street.

  6. Are they unsheltered Vermonters or unsheltered transients spending their summer here? Just curious or does anybody know?

    • On a recent rainy day, I gave a ride to a couple of people hitch hiking in Brattleboro. During a quick conversation, I learned they were homeless, and not from Vermont. They were from South Carolina, and were “summering” in New England. They had maps, an itinerary, and lists of stopping places in several NE states that offered food, shelter, showers and other services that they had compiled by using a public access computer in a city library in the state they came from. The day I gave them a lift, they had planned to be in Rutland for the night; they knew of a place to stay. I dropped them at a fast food restaurant. And yes, I gave them some of my parking meter change when they spoke the universal plea “…anything will help…” If the Vermont Tourism Bureau is reading this, your advertisements are working…

  7. While living in SoCal from 2014-2017, San Diego County banned single use plastic bags. The homeless there fell victim to an immediate and deadly hepatitis outbreak. Over 2 dozen people died from hepatitis during 2016-2017 period. The outbreak was contributed directly from the ban of single use plastic bags. I know our homeless numbers in Vermont don’t compare to California, but one has to wonder what the well intending but moronic influencers and legislators of Vermont will do to mitigate the negative impacts of their laws on the vulnerable and growing homeless population.

  8. ‘Unsheltered people’? Since when is a tent not a shelter? I moved into a campground one week after High School graduation and lived in a tent – had no idea I was an ‘unsheltered person’. What a bunch of snowflakes.

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