‘I’m scared to death:’ Vermont advocates rally to extend emergency housing benefits

Vermont

An 84-day extension of emergency housing benefits is set to expire for more than 540 Vermont households , this week, but Vermont Legal Aid and housing advocates are asking the state for more time.

“Most of us are afraid for our lives, the winter itself,” said 24-year-old motel voucher participant Randy Tatro. “Because if you’re homeless in the winter, and you can’t end up in centers … people will freeze to death.”

April Metcalf, a participant in the voucher program, says she’s lived in several different motels in Central Vermont throughout the pandemic. “It’s just really hard, I’m scared to death, and I’m sure everybody else is,” she said. “When Thursday comes, what are we going do to?

In a letter to the Department for Children and Families, VLA and shelter providers are asking the department to extend the benefits “for as long as possible, dictated only by room availability,” for 543 households. VLA staff attorney Mairead O’Reilly said that with COVID-19 cases rising due to the highly transmissible Delta variant, ending the benefits doesn’t make sense to her.

“When the legislature approved the administration’s plan to offer benefits for only 84 days, the circumstances, were really different,” she said.

Rick DeAngelis, executive director of The Good Samaritan Haven in Barre, said that without an extension, 50 to 75 people in Washington County will lose housing. He said the state should take advantage of the recent decision by the Federal Emergency Emergency Management Agency to extend a 100% cost share through the end of the year.

“We urge the Department for Children and Families to take advantage of FEMA funding,” he said. “In this period of uncertainty and crisis, why wouldn’t you use that funding to provide support and protection?”

The advocates letter also points out that while the state is investing in affordable housing and additional shelters, the units won’t be ready in time. Another Way, a drop-in site in Montpelier, is suppling camping gear — tarps, tents, sleeping bags, and meals– to those in need. However, Ken Russell, executive director of the site, says it’s a temporary fix.

“We’re helping them get stable emotionally, to the best of our ability,” Russell said. “But this feels like pulling the rug out from underneath the motel system. These are human beings we’re talking about here. These are people who are not outside just because of moral failings, their in life crisis.”

Metcalf says she’s hoping and praying for more support from the Gov. Phil Scott and his administration.

“What do they expect us to do?” she said. “Really.”

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