SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) The Scott administration is floating a $23 million plan to address homelessness in Vermont and move beyond the expensive emergency fix the state has used during the COVID crisis.
Israel Cave has been staying at the Travelodge in South Burlington for a couple months now. He says the voucher program has been a great help, but he wouldn't mind living somewhere more permanent if it was the right fit. "It kept me off the street in kind of bad weather," Cave said. "I would like to settle down. I'm 77-years-old now and I'm kind of tired of being homeless, so I'd like to settle down in a nice place -- quiet, clean."
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the state moved Cave and nearly 2,000 other homeless Vermonters into hotels and motels. But with a price tag of $48 million a year, Agency of Human Services Secretary Mike Smith calls that program unsustainable. "And it really doesn't meet the needs of the homeless -- there's no services that are offered," he said.
Smith is pushing for a transition away from the motel voucher program and back to community-centric solutions. His agency is pitching a $23 million solution for this next fiscal year. The proposal includes:
• $10 million to go to the hotel and motel voucher program, because
they can't get people out right away.
• $6 million to go towards helping people find housing.
• $2.5 million to go towards temporary rental assistance for families
• $3.7 million for one-time inflexible financial assistance for 720
• $250,000 to help the state encourage landlords to rent to people
who they might consider a risk.
Cave says he thinks housing help is a great idea. He says he's homeless by choice and would consider looking at what the state offers for help. "Most of the time I just choose to go my own way. I've always been pretty fortunate in finding something, you know," he said.
While it makes financial sense for the state to start transitioning the homeless out of hotels and motels, it does present a financial conundrum for the hotels and motels that have been relying on that revenue to stay open. They say so far, they're not getting the normal bookings that they would need during these seasons to make their financial bottom line.