Throughout the pandemic, Vermont has rented hotel rooms as a measure to combat homelessness. Funding from FEMA is backing the emergency housing program through the end of the year.
However, the program is due to expire next Thursday, on October 21. Gov. Phil Scott is expected to extend it before then — possibly at his weekly news conference on Tuesday — but the hundreds of people in the program are at risk of losing the roof over their heads.
April Metcalf is staying at the Hilltop Inn in Berlin through the program. She said that domestic violence initiated her struggle with homelessness.
“My ex-boyfriend tried to kill me,” Metcalf said. “He’s in jail, but I’m worried he’s getting out — and, you know, am I safe?”
Belinda Lamphear became homeless in May despite a long track record of steady employment in the mental health field. She, and other residents at the Hilltop Inn, experience daily stress that they might be kicked out.
“All I see is a trail of tears if everybody had to go,” Lamphear said. “What (are) the handicapped going to do? I mean, I have half a foot; I have a hand that doesn’t work. There are people in walkers. There are just people and — where are they going to go? They can’t do this. They would die out there.”
Scott Pearlman said he’s noticed a cyclical pattern, every few weeks, during his time in the program. He said people periodically don’t know where they’ll be the following day.
“There’s a lot of people here that are good people that are being sort of mislabeled as being in this system because they’re somehow bad people or somehow lazy or addicted to drugs — there are so many different stereotypes,” Pearlman said. “And I’m here to tell you — I’m a taxpaying, working individual — you know; I see what they’re going through.”
The Economic Services Division of the Vermont Department of Children and Families has been offering a $2,500 stipend to anyone still in hotel housing who chooses to leave. Kathy Marsha said Friday that she turned it down.
“We were told that if we didn’t take it, then we were going to be housed as long as we were working with (DCF) Economic Services and with Capstone (Community Action),” Marsha said. “We did everything we were supposed to. Now, come on! Do what you said you were going to.”
Ending the offers is one of the things housing advocates are calling on Gov. Scott to do by camping out on the Statehouse steps in Montpelier. One of them was a 2018 Democratic candidate for governor.
“It does look like that we’re going to be at least through Tuesday,” Brenda Siegel said. “We hope that the governor does the right thing and announces much sooner that he is going to extend the program and include the thousand people that he put on the street in July, but we don’t see that happening until — so we’re going to keep pushing so that that can be included when that announcement is made on Tuesday.”
Another of the advocates who have sleeping bags with them on the steps has been experiencing homelessness for more than five years.
“It’s great to have all this support,” Josh Lisenby said. “I think it’s just something that finally needed to be done. It’s just something we’ve put off for decades now, literally. Something has to be done; it just can’t continue.”
The group’s other demands include ending the state’s 12-week hotel housing benefit limit and creating a cohesive, safe, long-term anti-homelessness plan.