MONTPELIER – Wednesday was Vermont’s annual Homelessness Awareness Day, and to mark the occasion, the Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition held a livestream vigil before advocates spoke with the Vermont Legislature.
In January 2020, there were over 1,000 Vermonters living homeless, but advocates say the pandemic revealed that the true extent of the issue runs much deeper.
Lt. Gov. Molly Gray detailed the impact of homelessness in Vermont at Wednesday’s vigil.
“Vermont is the 16th most expensive state in the nation when it comes to affordable housing or housing wage,” Lt. Gov. Gray said. “One percent of Vermonters identify as African-American, yet eight percent of African-Americans in Vermont experience homelessness.”
In December, over 2500 people were living in motels paid for by the state, a short-term solution that advocates said they were grateful for.
“Before the pandemic, we were able to kind of come together, but we were doing a lot of talking, and it felt to me like we weren’t able to bust through some of these gates that we were suddenly able to do,” said Zachary Hughes, a volunteer.
On Wednesday, there was also focus on long-term fixes to help transition people from motels to affordable housing by expanding it’s availability and offering housing-related financial assistance to help at-risk Vermonters avoid losing their housing.
“There’s been a monumental effort in communities to get households on to their local coordinated entry list where they can be connected with services and prioritized for housing,” said Kara Casey, Co-Chair of the Vermont Coalition to end Homelessness.
Emily Taylor, Service Coordinator at the Champlain Housing Trust, said she was paying close attention to Gov. Phil Scott’s budget address on Tuesday.
“I couldn’t help notice that Governor Scott proposed a one-time appropriation for affordable housing development on top of the normal allocation,” Taylor said. “Champlain Housing Trust is absolutely ready to create and build more affordable housing just as soon as we can.”
In the Vermont House, ‘Homeless Bill of Rights’ legislation was recently introduced. It would seek to prevent discrimination in employment, emergency medical care, and voting among other institutions. The Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition also believes it would help cut back on efforts to criminalize behavior associated with homelessness, such as panhandling or sleeping in cars.
Homelessness Awareness Day coincides with the 2021 Point in Time count, a one-day annual count of those experiencing homelessness across Vermont.