Gov. Scott defends winding down of homeless hotels

Published: May. 26, 2023 at 5:02 PM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Gov. Phil Scott Friday defended the winding down of the state’s emergency hotel program, saying the federally-funded pandemic program is not sustainable for the state to continue funding.

The governor said he remain’s convinced the state’s hotel-motel housing program needs to end, and that what started as a stop-gap measure to help people at the start of the pandemic, has ballooned into something different.

“When you consider many in the program are no better off than they were three years ago after spending nearly $200 million, you can see why we might conclude there must be a better way,” Scott said.

An estimated 730 households will lose access on June 1st after federal funding runs dry. The remaining 1,090 households -- considered more vulnerable -- will be sent packing on July 1st.

The governor acknowledges the program helped people but says it lacked accountability. “We didn’t have any oversight in this program -- it was just opened up. We were actually just the credit card,” Scott said.

“People in the motel and hotel program are not getting the services that they need,” said AHS Secretary Jenny Samuelson. She says the state is increasing the capacity of shelters. “We have been transitioning them from being temporary seasonal shelters to permanent shelters.”

Governor Scott says he is asking members of his team to look for ways to add housing, including identifying vacant units to rehab and work with the state treasurer to find more money. “To identify all housing programs and available funding to significantly expedite construction of short, medium, and long-term housing,” he said.

“We are working to establish congregate shelters with a high proportion of individuals exiting pandemic housing and establish day stations in partnerships with local municipalities,” said DCF Commissioner Chris Winters.

But housing advocate and former gubernatorial candidate Brenda Siegel, who has been sounding the alarm for months, said this week that the state should continue to fund the program and could negotiate better prices for the rooms. She says she expects the sudden closure will cause widespread upheaval that could lead some people to die. “This is going to be a state-sponsored un-sheltering that’s going to create a humanitarian crisis,” Siegel said.

When asked about people leaving hotel rooms and camping to survive, Governor Scott said that’s very possible. “I don’t think people should be surprised to see people in those situations,” he said.

As of now, on July 1st the state will be going back to its pre-pandemic rules for emergency housing by issuing vouchers good for 28 days at a time. In the summer, it’s used to help people affected by natural disasters, fleeing domestic disturbances, and other emergencies. In the winter, it also helps people escape the cold. Starting in July, there will be more vouchers and eligibility is expanding to include families with children who need housing for any reason.

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