Governor Phil Scott has agreed to a 30-day extension of the state’s emergency housing benefit, which was set to force more than 500 households out of the motel voucher program this week.

Housing advocates had asked the Scott Administration to extend the benefit for homeless seniors, homeless people with disabilities or who are pregnant until the end of the year.

Scott wouldn’t go that far, but said the extra 30 days will allow him and his staff a chance to find other solutions — ideally, permanent housing for those who need it. The benefit was set to expire Thursday.

“This can’t go on in perpetuity. So what happens if we go until January 1 and this ends at the end of the year, what then? We’re still going to be faced with the same situation,” he said. “So we need to get on the same page. We need to agree upon the goal and a path forward.”

Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint applauded the extension. She said the COVID-19 delta variant wasn’t the threat it is today when Scott extended the motel voucher program for 89 days in June.

She said the administration and stakeholders “need to back to square one and explore all avenues to keep people safely housed as we head into the colder weather.” 

The ultimate solution is more affordable, safe and accessible housing, but right now, that’s not available, said Kara Casey of the Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.

“For survivors of domestic and sexual violence and many others, this just didn’t mean a roof but safety,” she said. “In our current climate with a pandemic still very much present and the affordable housing crisis, 84 days has proven to not be enough to be able to afford and to secure affordable housing.”

Another Way, a community drop-in center in Montpelier, is handing out camping gear, meals and handwarmers, said executive director Ken Russell.

While the motel program is imperfect, “it at least gets people out of the cold,” Russell said. “These are human beings we’re talking about here. People are not outside just because of moral failings. They’re in life crisis.”

They may have mental health, substance abuse or life challenges, he said.

“There’s not a strong enough system in place to take care of these folks,” he said. “Any one of these folks indoors does better.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.