Advocates for Vermont’s homeless population claimed victory Thursday after the state expanded eligibility for who will be able to qualify for emergency housing in hotels and motels this winter.
As a result of the state’s decision, announced Wednesday, a handful of advocates ended their 27-night protest in which they slept on the steps of the Vermont Statehouse in Montpelier to draw attention to the plight of people who have to sleep outside.
Advocate Brenda Siegel, of Newfane, who spent the 27 nights and 28 days on the Statehouse steps, said their actions helped make people aware of the challenges faced by people experiencing homelessness.
“It had to be forced into the public eye for all of us to pay attention,” Siegel said during a Thursday news conference on the Statehouse steps. “Now that we are all looking we must never look away.”
On Wednesday, the Vermont Department for Children and Families announced the Adverse Weather Conditions of the General Assistance Emergency Housing Program, which makes people eligible to stay in hotels or motels during inclement weather, would be in use from Nov. 22 until March 1.
The state says that historically, pre-pandemic, the adverse weather program had been applied on a day-to-day basis depending on weather forecasts and conditions. Before the pandemic, the emergency housing program served about 250 people a year.
A different version of the program currently serves more than 1,500 people.
To be eligible for the expanded program, people must have an urgent need for housing, meet income guidelines and be unable to find housing on their own.
On Thursday, Siegel estimated there are at least 1,000 who exited an earlier version of the program who could meet the eligibility requirements for the expanded program that will be in use this winter.
Siegel said she and other advocates would work to make sure that everyone who wants to take advantage of the program will be able to. During their month on the Statehouse steps they set up a hotline for people to call if they needed help applying for housing assistance.
Siegel also said the owners of the hotels and motels also need to know how the plan will be working so they can make their plans.
“We need to know well before March 1 that we’re keeping people housed until they’re transitioned into long term housing,” she said.