As the severity of the coronavirus pandemic set in last spring, federal CARES Act money was allocated to help make sure people around the country had safe and secure housing.
Now, with funding scheduled to run out December 31, Vermont Rep. Peter Welch is calling for the program to be extended.
“That date was included in the original legislation back in April because there was hope we would be looking at the virus in the rear view window,” he said. “But we’re not.”
On Tuesday, Welch visited the Holiday Inn in South Burlington where 140 Vermonters with no permanent place to live are being housed. He said with cold weather coming, it’s necessary to continue to provide the temporary shelter.
“You always need shelter,” he said, “but in the winter there’s no messing around.”
Paul Dragon of the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity says the 1.2% vacancy rate in Chittenden County’s housing stock poses another challenge.
“To find places for 140 people to stay would be extremely difficult,” said Dragon, CVOEO’s executive director. “People cannot stay in congregate settings, and that’s what most of our shelters are, congregate setting with beds close to one another.”
Dragon said no COVID-19 cases have been reported among the 250 people the CVOEO has served since April. Pamela Williams has been staying at the hotel since June.
“The issues of stigma about homelessness and accompaniment need to be dispelled,” Williams said. “And that people can look for their own housing in a way that doesn’t jeopardize their identity or risk the use of their information.”
Welch said a federal relief package to help Vermonters and small business, which has been tied up in negotiations for months, needs to come soon.
“It’s uphill before election and it should be before election because the pain is real and the need is urgent,” Welch said. “My view the economic assistance is essential and we should agree to do it.”
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