MONTPELIER, Vermont (AP) – Advocates for the Vermont homeless population won on Thursday after the state expanded the eligibility of people eligible for emergency accommodation in hotels and motels this winter.
Following the state’s decision, announced on Wednesday, a handful of activists ended their 27-night protest in which they slept on the steps of the Vermont Statehouse in Montpellier to call attention to the plight people who have to sleep outside.
Lawyer Brenda Siegel, of Newfane, who spent the 27 nights and 28 days on the steps of Statehouse, said their actions have helped raise awareness of the challenges faced by people experiencing homelessness. “It had to be made public for all of us to pay attention to it,” she said at a press conference Thursday on the steps of Statehouse. “Now that we are all watching, we must never look away. “
On Wednesday, the Vermont Department for Children and Families announced that adverse weather conditions from the General Assistance Emergency Housing Program, which allows people to stay in hotels or motels in inclement weather, would be used from November 22 to March 1.
The state said historically, before the pandemic, the bad weather program had been implemented on a day-to-day basis based on forecast and weather conditions. Before the pandemic, the emergency housing program served around 250 people per year.
A different version of the program currently serves over 1,500 people. To be eligible for the expanded program, people must be in dire need of housing, meet income criteria and be unable to find housing on their own.
On Thursday, Siegel estimated that at least 1,000 people who left an earlier version of the program could meet the eligibility criteria for the expanded program that will be used this winter. She and other advocates plan to make sure that anyone who wants to take advantage of the program will be able to do so. During their month on the Statehouse Steps, they set up a hotline that people can call if they needed help applying for housing assistance.
Siegel also said hotel and motel owners also need to know how the plan will work so they can make their plans. “We need to know well before March 1 that we are keeping people housed until they are transferred to long-term housing,” she said.