The demand for emergency housing Vermont motels has doubled since 2009. That year the law changed to allow not just women and children but single people to receive motel vouchers when shelters are full. Now, nearly half the people the state is putting up in motels are single and officials want that to change.
The nearly 2,000 people using motel vouchers stay an average of 21 days. State officials say 30% of them are coming back year after year.
"And I said, we've got to break that cycle," explained Dave Yacavone, Commissioner of the Vermont Department for Children and Families. "So really in looking at the data we said this is not appropriate for people to be housed temporarily in a motel."
Yacavone said the budget for the voucher program has doubled in the past two years and is now about $3,500,000 for fiscal year 2013. He's appealing to the legislature to divert the so called motel money to community based organizations that he says know better how to help the homeless in their regions.
"We need to begin to move away from motels and help people address the underlying issues as to why they're knocking on our door in the first place," Yacavone said.
He says while motels serve a purpose in emergencies like natural disasters, putting people up for weeks at a time is not the solution to homelessness.
"The motels don't do that. They really don't. They might get you out of a storm in a bad way but they don't help you in permanent sort of way," Yacavone explained.
Instead, he hopes the communities receiving funds will secure apartment leases and assign case workers to help people make and stick to a plan to become independent.
"It's a whole different approach about serving people better and differently," Yacavone said.
The concept is interesting to Linda Ryan, who runs the Good Samaritan Shelter in Saint Albans.
"Those kinds of approaches make a lot more sense than just putting people in motels but again it's not just one way or another, all or nothing," Ryan said.
Though she added, the motels do serve a purpose and shouldn't be eliminated totally especially in areas of the state that lack sufficient sheltering.
"Can we as a state do things in a better way to be more effective?" Ryan asked. "For the most part, I'd say yes but we still need motels for some."
Yacavone admits the goals are lofty and will be phased in slowly overtime. This is expected to cut down on people abusing the motel program, too. Like people choosing a comfy hotel room over a crowded shelter and scammers from out of state.
One manager we talked to said about 70% of the people using the vouchers at his hotel are from out of state.