Vermont expands homeless access to winter motels

MONTPELIER (AP) — Advocates for Vermont’s homeless population claimed victory Thursday after the state expanded eligibility for who will qualify for emergency housing at hotels and motels this winter. .

Following the state’s decision, announced Wednesday, a handful of lawyers ended their 27-night protest during which they slept on the steps of the Vermont Statehouse in Montpellier to draw attention to the fate of people who have to sleep outside.

Lawyer Brenda Siegel, from Newfane, who spent the 27 nights and 28 days on the Statehouse steps, said their actions helped raise awareness of the challenges faced by homeless people.

“It had to be made public for all of us to pay attention to it,” Siegel said at a Thursday press conference on the Statehouse steps. “Now that we are all looking, we must never look away.”

On Wednesday, the Vermont Department of Children and Families announced that the Adverse Weather General Assistance Emergency Housing Program, which allows people to stay in hotels or motels during inclement weather, would be used from 22 November to March 1.

The state says that historically, before the pandemic, the adverse weather program was applied on a day-to-day basis based on forecasts and weather conditions. Before the pandemic, the emergency housing program served about 250 people a year.

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A different version of the program currently serves more than 1,500 people.

To be eligible for the expanded scheme, people must be in urgent housing need, meet income criteria and be unable to find housing on their own.

On Thursday, Siegel estimated there were at least 1,000 people who had left an earlier version of the program and who could meet the eligibility criteria for the expanded program that will be used this winter.

Siegel said she and other advocates will work to make sure anyone who wants to take advantage of the program can do so. During their month on the Statehouse Steps, they set up a hotline that people can call if they need 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 moved to long-term accommodation,” she said.