Hotel voucher spending costs spiral - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Hotel voucher spending spirals

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BURLINGTON, Vt. -

Vermont's motel voucher program for the homeless had strict marching orders from Montpelier. "This year the legislature said spend no more than $1.5 million on motels," said Dave Yacovone, The Commissioner for the Department of Children and Families. 

But Friday Yacovone confirmed his team has blown through that budget. It's early in the fiscal year and the program is already on track to spend $2.7 million more than lawmakers initially approved.

Yacovone says the number of people in the program is down, but so too are the number of federal section eight vouchers to help the homeless find housing -- on top of a number of other factors.  "The average length of stay in the program is up 30-percent, the cost of a motel is running approximately 11-percent higher than last year," Yacovone said.

South Burlington Police Chief Trevor Whipple says people abusing the voucher program have caused problems in the past, but he argues sending them out on the street is not the answer. "What we have found is that sometimes those people are at risk themselves, at risk of criminal behavior, because they're out in the woods with no contact -- they're at risk of the elements and environment. We had a gentleman freeze to death I believe two winters ago," Chief Whipple said.

DCF says a new shelter in the works in Shelburne could save the voucher program about a quarter-of-a-million dollars in costs, and it's a model Whipple argues will better serve people in need. "What I would prefer is rather than just provide them with a place to stay, which is necessary, we also have someone who works with them to avail them of other services, so maybe they won't be homeless anymore," Whipple said.

In the meantime Yacavone says he'll have to appeal to the legislature for a budget adjustment to cover the skyrocketing costs. "Certainly there is a choice to make -- do we tighten up the program eligibility more, do we serve just those in catastrophic situations and not serve those who are vulnerable?" Yacavone said.

Yacovone says so far this year 600 households have used the voucher program -- down from 800 hundred during the same period last year. Chair of the House Appropriations Committee, Martha Heath, tells WCAX she was surprised by the cost overruns and expects the numbers to change by the time the legislature reconvenes. She says she'll have a lot of questions for DCF.

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