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Hotel voucher program has state opening fewer winter homeless shelters

Published: Dec. 2, 2020 at 4:55 PM EST
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - As the weather gets colder, warming and overnight shelters pop up around the state to help those in need. But during the pandemic, the state has turned to hotels to house many of the homeless to help with social distancing. So how many shelters will actually open?

The Christ Church in Montpelier feeds people every Wednesday afternoon but now this church is shining a light on another issue.

The church wasn’t using the space as they are closed due to the pandemic, so they answered the need and turned it into a low-barrier shelter.

“We have worked very hard to make it as safe as can be,” said Beth Ann Maier, the deacon at the Christ Church.

The Christ Church is taking over the role of temporary shelter this year from another church in the community.

Maier says a year ago in Washington County there were 140 homeless households. This November, there were just under 300.

Throughout the state, those numbers have also grown and many are in hotels thanks to a state voucher.

“Most people are able to get hotel rooms. There is still a number of people who have not been in a position themselves personally to access a hotel room,” Maier said.

The Christ Church overflow shelter has 10 beds and is state-funded through December.

“With the understanding that the people we are serving, we will work with over December to find them more sustainable housing,” Maier said.

The state says normally, around 10 shelters open up in the winter months. This year we are only seeing four so far, including this one in Montpelier.

“They made the decision to open, which was great just to do some of that outreach and make connections,” said Sarah Phillips, the director of the State Office of Economic Opportunity.

State officials say, for now, they plan to focus on the hotel voucher program this year as it’s easier to socially distance and keep people apart.

“We are not expecting to see many of them open up this year and we have been anticipating that that’s the case,” Phillips said.

Back at the church, they know it’s only temporary.

“This is a Band-Aid. This is not a sustainable way to care for people lacking housing,” Maier said.

The state says they plan to continue to meet the needs of anyone seeking shelter during COVID-19 with a heavy reliance on the hotel voucher program.

Related Story:

Is sheltering Vermont’s homeless in hotels working?

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