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Vt. homeless advocates say confusion over new rules left hundreds unsheltered this week

File photo
File photo(WCAX)

By Calvin Cutler

Published: Apr. 3, 2024 at 5:46 PM EDT|Updated: 16 hours ago

MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) – Advocates for Vermont’s homeless continue to sound alarms over potentially hundreds of people losing their state-funded hotel rooms.

When cold-weather rules ended last month, state data showed 1,539 people using emergency hotel vouchers. But as of Monday, about 370 households had not renewed under new rules approved by lawmakers and the governor.

Advocates are worried that people who have been making use of the emergency vouchers missed a new deadline to renew their hotel rooms this week, claiming many have disabilities. “It is the largest minority group and it is the only minority group that any one of us can be a part of at any time,” said Lindsey Owen with Disability Rights Vermont.

But the state does not yet know how many people left the rooms.

“It’s apparent that even with better policies voted in by the legislature, the implementation of it is sloppy and affects people’s lives,” said Sarah Lunderville with the Vermont Center of Independent Living.”

Advocates say the hotel program rules need to be simpler and accuse the Scott administration of trying to wind down the program sooner than expected. “It is either an intentional decision to restrict information or a complete lack of competence to roll out guidance and communication,” said Brenda Siegel with End Homelessness Vermont.

“I disagree. We have been trying to help those who qualify for the program stay in the program,” Governor Phil Scott said Wednesday.

He says the hotel-motel program was supposed to be a program of last resort and has changed from a pre-pandemic emergency program to one where millions in federal funds were pumped into the state. But that money has been gone now for nearly two years with the state left to hold the bag.

Administration officials say a recent law that extended hotel stays is causing confusion. They say some people are leaving for permanent housing and others who have had rooms since last summer are now no longer eligible. “A lot is at play and no two cases are the same,” said DCF’s Miranda Gray.

There are currently three separate groups in hotels with separate requirements and separate timelines on when they are eligible. Gray agrees that any changes to the hotel program need to be simple for recipients and state workers to understand. “I think not having legislation that is signed into law and then two days later we have to implement the changes would be helpful, because it’s really challenging,” she said.

The Vermont Senate is considering a bill that would set up several working groups to come up with a simpler hotel program.

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