Embarrassment Plus Compassion Equals Policy Shift

We’ll take a couple thousand of these, thanks

“It hasn’t changed my thinking,” said Gov. Phil Scott at his Tuesday briefing. The subject was the state’s emergency housing program. Immediately after he said that, he went on to make it pretty dang clear that his thinking has changed and is continuing to change.

For that, a lot of credit goes to the intrepid band of advocates (including Tweeters-In-Chief Josh Lisenby and Brenda Siegel) camped out on the portico of the Statehouse. The needle has definitely moved since their protest began almost three weeks ago. The conversation has shifted from “We need to end the program soon” to “We’ll keep it running a while longer” to “We want to avoid throwing anyone out on the street, if only because the optics would be bad.”

(That last bit is the quiet part out loud.)

This isn’t enough for the advocates, who continue their stakeout. But it’s substantial movement nonetheless.

At this point, Scott doesn’t really have a position. Until now, he was dead set on ending the program at a date certain. The date kept shifting backwards, but there was always an end in sight. Now, it’s not clear that there is. The governor sure avoided any talk of a deadline at the Tuesday presser.

Scott being Scott, he had to poke the Legislature’s Democratic leadership, who came out in favor of restoring the full program on Monday. (For such a famously nice guy, he makes a lot of snide remarks about his political opponents.) “They had voted previously in favor of ending that program, so they must have come to a different conclusion,” he said in an attempt to eliminate any Empathy Gap between himself and top lawmakers. “We’re obviously willing to work with the Legislature on this. They’ll be coming back into session in January, and I’m sure it will be a topic of conversation.”

Well. That would seem to negate his previous insistence on ending the program before the new year begins.

Human Services Secretary Mike Smith followed up. “We’re always looking at ways to further enhance the program,” he said, and then pointed out that emergency housing eligibility will be broader during the cold winter months. That would take us into March or April at least.

The program isn’t being fully restored — at least not yet. But Scott and legislative leadership have definitely moved in the direction of providing shelter to more of the homeless. It’s not total victory, but it’s nothing to sneeze at either.

Postscript. Scott and Smith each used the word “obviously” to describe their openness to working with the Legislature. Until now, that hasn’t been obvious at all. Obviously, there’s some ass-covering going on.

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