Stimulus plan holds money to help house homeless

Published: May. 20, 2020 at 5:58 PM EDT
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The governor's proposed stimulus relief plan includes $50 million for housing assistance; $42 million of that will go to help landlords and tenants who couldn't collect or pay rent during the crisis. The other $8 million is going to transition homeless into housing. Our Cat Viglienzoni breaks down what we do know and don't know about that plan.

When the pandemic hit, shelters had to accept fewer people to maintain distancing. The state put anyone who needed a place to stay in hotels and motels. But that's a pricey program, costing more than $800,000 a week. So, part of the COVID-19 recovery plan aims to get homeless Vermonters into more permanent residences.

When the coronavirus hit, the state turned to the hotels and motels to house some 1,600 homeless Vermonters.

"That's unsustainable for the long term," Vt. Agency of Human Services Secretary Mike Smith said.

Smith says it's time to "unwind" the hotel housing soon. He says while they were needed to protect people when COVID hit, even before the pandemic they weren't a great option.

"The motel/hotel voucher system is not a solution to a long-term problem. We don't provide services, there can be abuse to that program," Smith said.

State leaders said returning to the old norm isn't an option. Instead, they're trying to accomplish two goals at once: Take $8 million of the federal relief money and use it to fix up to 250 units of housing around the state right now that are not being used because they need work. It's a strategy they told us has been used before but not to this scale.

Wednesday, they could not provide details to WCAX News about where those units are and what support services would be available to the people who will live in them. That's concerning for ANEW Place Executive Director Kevin Pounds.

"If it was as simple as just providing a bed, we would have tackled this challenge long before COVID-19," Pounds said.

He says in order to keep people from continually ending up homeless, any housing program has to also address mental health, financial management, substance abuse treatment and other issues.

"I think that a lot of people that are caught in the cycle of homelessness, if they're not going to come back in in three months, six months, a year, they really need those supports after they move into housing," Pounds said. "So, I just hope that's part of the game plan for whatever is being rolled out."

But he's encouraged that addressing homelessness is on the radar, as is the Committee on Temporary Shelter or COTS. Communications Director Becky Holt told us this is a good attempt to find a creative solution to the housing crunch.

"We definitely need more housing. So anything that can rehab housing or bring more housing online for people in our community and in our state is a positive thing," Holt said.

As to when we'll learn more details about that plan, Wednesday, the governor's team said they'll be presenting legislation on Tuesday.

And everyone we heard from also acknowledged that this won't solve the problem and that other solutions will be needed.