Barre City officials prepare for end of hotel housing program

Published: May. 23, 2023 at 11:18 PM EDT
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BARRE CITY, Vt. (WCAX) - Those utilizing Vermont’s Hotel Housing Program, enacted at the start of the pandemic, have a little more than a week to find new housing.

With thousands of people scheduled to lose the roofs over their heads, municipalities are grappling with how best to help. Barre City officials, state officials and community organizations met on Tuesday to brainstorm solutions.

Barre City Manager Nicolas Storellicastro says when the first wave of evictions happens on May 31, 100 people in Washington County will lose their housing.

“If we resorted to camping, we’ve already failed,” Storellicastro said. “We’re the wealthiest country in the world.”

Storellicastro says the city is four square miles and doesn’t have the infrastructure for a sudden influx of unhoused individuals. He says if the state wants to suggest people camp, they should be providing land and other needs that municipalities are unable to provide.

“We need some capital investments. We need places for people to go the bathroom,” Storellicastro said. “We need places for people to shower. These are things we can’t do as a city. It’s not a Barre crisis, so we need state help with the response.”

Storellicastro says they expect future funding from the state to help with a long-term solution, though they’re not quite sure what that will look like.

Barre City Rep. Jonathan Williams says there’s more than $112 million appropriated in the pending state budget to help unhoused folks. He adds a lot of it comes without the red tape that has traditionally accompanied funds of this nature.

“What is needed is the administration to deploy staffing and potentially opening up, in my opinion, state lands and facilities to create more suitable shelters,” said Williams, D-Barre City.

For now, Barre City councilors are weighing using the BOR Arena as a temporary shelter for the summer, but it’s not a long-term solution and would still require state assistance. Storellicastro says they would need to vacate it by fall as it earns revenue for the city.

“Four-hundred people potentially coming out into this area is a huge challenge. It’s also important the human element of this doesn’t get lost,” Storellicastro said. “There’s also 85 children part of this mix, so we want to make sure we’re all working together to find solutions for these people.”

City councilors and other community organizations plan to meet again next Tuesday with the hopes of getting more ideas on the table.

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