Changes to Vt. program that houses homeless in hotels - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Changes to Vt. program that houses homeless in hotels

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Travis Duval and his family have been living at the Ho Hum Motel for almost three weeks. After getting injured at work and being forced to close down his business, Duval says he never thought this would happen.

"We still can't make enough no matter what we do," Duval said. "It's not just based on circumstantial, it's based on environment, job opportunities and things like that, and circumstance. Bad things happen sometimes to good people."

And Duval says he's lucky to have his motel room. He got it just before a new state plan to crack down on homeless voucher abuse was set to start July 15.

"It hurts a little bit," Duval said. "You can work as hard as you want and still get screwed in a way... and that's how a lot of people out here basically feel; that we're kind of getting worked over."

The Vermont Agency of Human Services created a point system in response to lawmakers' concerns about voucher abuse, making it tougher to obtain a motel room. But advocates pushed for a delay until August.

"I think it would have been disastrous," said Rita Markley of the Committee on Temporary Shelter.

"It was far too narrow," said Christopher Curtis of Vermont Legal Aid. "It's pointless to have a point system that doesn't work if people can't get access to it."

The original system surveyed applicants to gain points based on their level of "vulnerability." To get a voucher, an applicant needs at least 6 points.

"There's no doubt where we drew the line a number of people would not have received assistance. We've modified the line to try to make the program more responsive to people," said Dave Yacavone, the commissioner of the Vermont Department for Children and Families.

After a meeting Tuesday, advocates and the Agency of Human Services agreed to lower the entry level to 4 points and give immediate access to people 65 and over, mothers in their third trimester, mothers with children 6 years old or younger, disabled people, and anyone who went through a catastrophic event.

AHS says the changes are a big improvement, but they are still working to clamp down on abuse of the system.

"Any program has outliers of people who may misuse it, but I don't think that's the norm by any means," Yacavone said.

But advocates urge the public to be patient and understand what the task at hand is.

"Homelessness is not like an incurable disease where we don't know what the answer is and you're struggling and hoping you can find a cure," Markley said. "We know the answer; it's housing. And it's got to be housing that people can afford on whatever their income is."

Advocates say they plan to give these changes to a legislative committee immediately and hope to use public input on this system before it's officially put into place.

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