Vt. spending millions on hotels for the homeless - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Vt. spending millions on hotels for the homeless

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Ashley Sawyer is checking out of Handy's Extended Stay Suites in Colchester.

"We're in a situation right now where we have nowhere to go. We have wonderful friends and family, however they're not able to help us with living space," Sawyer said.

Friday was her 84th day here; that's the maximum number of days the state of Vermont will pay for a homeless family to stay in a hotel.

"The kids have loved it here; there's a little play area out back. It's felt more like home than most hotels and now we have to leave with nowhere to go," Sawyer said.

The Sawyers' case is not unique. The state of Vermont spent $2.2 million this year for families to stay in hotels around the state. That's nearly double the $1.4 million spent last year and more than four times the amount spent just four years ago.

"I know a lot of money is spent on motels and is just increasing every year, the numbers just continue to go up," said Janet Green of the Burlington Housing Authority.

Green says putting homeless Vermonters in hotels prevents them from finding a permanent solution.

"Part of it is the word is out that you could get a motel, so maybe that's a reason why people feel like it's not as important to maintain their housing," Green said.

"It's a Band-Aid approach to getting people a roof over their head. It's not a permanent solution," said Richard Giddings of the Vt. Department of Children and Families.

Giddings says the state is currently working on redirecting funds toward more preventive measures, like rental assistance. But it will take more time than the Sawyers have.

"It would not be until the next fiscal year at the earliest and would probably be even after that," Giddings said.

Each day Ashley Sawyer's family stays at the hotel is more borrowed time, something she knows a lot about.

"I was an IV heroin user. I have been clean now for two years," she said. "I became a certified recovery coach."

She hasn't been on the streets since 2011, when she stopped using and got her kids back. She risks losing them again without a place for them to sleep.

"People watching this, I really hope they realize I'm not the only one; my kids are not the only ones," Sawyer said. "So, I hope the state can do something to better assist families in this situation."

Sawyer has worked with the Department of Children and Families as a peer educator trying to help other homeless parents in her situation. Regardless, she has yet to find a landlord that will let her move in because of her criminal past.

The state does not follow up with these families after they move out of the hotels and that's something the Department of Children and Families wants to change. They want to match each at-risk family with a caseworker who will help manage their living situation and hopefully prevent them from becoming homeless in the first place.

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