Judge gives 2-week reprieve in homeless hotel case
MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - A judge has given Vermonters with disabilities using the homeless hotel program a two-week reprieve to make their case that state changes set for Thursday will unfairly force them out of the program.
Vermont Legal Aid this week sued the state over the end of the emergency program set up to help the homeless during the pandemic. Starting Thursday, the program was set to have stricter eligibility requirements, impacting about 700 individuals.
The homeless hotel initiative was expanded to a $100 million program during the pandemic to house more people and stop the spread of the virus, but state officials say it’s time to scale back to keep it sustainable. But when it is time to evict those who no longer qualify, whose job is it?
State officials say if a hotel asks someone to leave and they don’t, social services will be called, not the police. “It’s a little bit different than eviction -- a hotel or motel program. We were fairly explicit that this was temporary,” said AHS Secretary Mike Smith.
But that doesn’t assure everyone, including Rutland Mayor David Allaire. “We’re relying on the state in this program. I’ve had my concerns with them right along, I’ve raised those, they know what they are. They have been paying more attention to at least what has been going on down here,” Allaire said.
The mayor says the remaining participating hotels in his city have not had many problems, but some have, and his chief of police is in regular contact with the state on the program. Allaire shut down the Quality Inn last month after two shootings and several code violations before it could open to travelers.
Many hotels taking part in the emergency housing program have experienced crime. The most recent was at the Rutland Town Holiday Inn on Tuesday, where police say they arrested two men on charges of assault and robbery. They say one also had heroin. Hotel officials declined to comment about their future plans and participation in the program.
Still, Mayor Allaire says he supports the program and wants those who need help to continue receiving it. “It affects a lot of people. There are folks who need the help, who we want to be able to help them and continue to help them. But for everyone else, it’s a new day,” he said.
As for those who can stay in the program, families with children are still eligible. Meanwhile, the state will continue its legal battle with Legal Aid over the definition of disabled and how it relates to the program.
For those households no longer eligible for emergency housing, the state is offering $2,500 to help meet their needs.
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