A curious thing happened one week after Election Day. The Scott administration, after much delay, released its rules for this winter’s emergency housing program. This is the thing that puts shelterless people in available motel rooms at state expense. .
The rules appear designed to minimize cost by putting strict limits on the program and giving the state plenty of reasons to reject applicants.
Hmm. The governor was running against Brenda Siegel, best known for her 2021 Statehouse protest over emergency housing… and his officials didn’t issue these rules until she was safely out of the way. The timing is too convenient to believe it was pure coincidence.
The delay does have consequences. These rules came out just as the program was opening for business. Recipients and administrators have had no time to digest them. It’s especially bad since we’ve slammed headlong into the first winter storm of the season.
Some of these rules were loosened during the pandemic and have now returned to previous levels. But while Covid may have receded somewhat, the housing crisis continues unabated. Is this the time to toughen emergency housing rules? Only if your goal is to save money.
Fortunately for the administration, the first phase of the winter emergency housing program took effect the day before our first big snow of the season. Good thing they didn’t wait any longer.
For the next month, eligibility will be “weather dependent.” Every morning, state officials will check the forecast and decide if conditions will be bad enough to open the program that night. The forecast temperature or wind chill must be below 20 degrees, or below 32 degrees if there’s a 50% or greater chance of precipitation. So tonight does qualify, although I wonder how everyone is coping only one day after the rules were issued.
From December 15 to March 15, eligibility is “independent of weather conditions.” (Please note that there are still rules, and pretty tough ones.) From March 15 to April 15, access is again weather dependent. After that, the program closes up shop for the season.
This policy seems to make no accommodation for unpredictable winter weather, which happens all the damn time. But let’s say the forecast is bad enough and you’re allotted a motel room. Well, you’d better damn well show up, even if the room is in another town and you’ve got no transportation. If you don’t show, you’re out of the program for 30 days. Same thing if you don’t follow the rules of the establishment, whatever they are, or if you refuse the accommodation on offer.
You know, sometimes there are good reasons to refuse a motel room. Have you ever stayed at a motel where you felt unsafe? I have. I’ve stayed in a couple that seemed to be more focused on the hourly trade than on tourism. Once I stayed in a chain motel in a bad part of Philadelphia where the office was surrounded by bulletproof glass, there was a burly security guard standing by, the carpets in the hallway and our room were festooned with stains, and the door lock was remarkably flimsy. Zero stars on Yelp.
Next, a recipient or household must check in on the following day with the nearest office of the Department of Children and Families’ Economic Services Division. If not, they’re deemed ineligible until they reapply with the ESD.
You might find these rules reasonable. How hard is it to get to a motel if you need it? How picky should you be if you have nowhere else to go? How tough is it to make a phone call the next day? But for a person or family living on the edge, each new obstacle is a fresh challenge. Plus, how often have you tried to reach a government office only to get caught in voice mail hell? I’ve been told that the 211 emergency line, which is how you access emergency housing, can be a nightmare to reach.
Now imagine if you’re without shelter because you’ve had a traumatic experience or mental health crisis or fled an abusive home. These are the “most vulnerable” that Governor Scott constantly claims to protect. His rules say otherwise.
Finally, there are limits to eligibility regardless of circumstances or compliance. For those eligible under “catastrophic criteria,” the limit is 84 nights per year. For those in “vulnerable populations,” the limit is only 24 nights. Either way, you can use up a lot of nights in the course of a winter. If you hit your limit you’re SOL until next year, even if you become vulnerable again.
We’re talking about a lot of people. A lot of adults, a lot of children and families. The housing situation isn’t getting better anytime soon.
This whole thing reveals a miserly approach to the social safety net. We don’t want a single recipient to get emergency housing unless they are truly, provably desperate. Meanwhile, the state has a much more forgiving approach to businesses that receive state grants or incentives and fail to follow the rules. They are, as Auditor Doug Hoffer has shown over and over again, not required to prove at all that they follow the rules or fulfill the terms of their taxpayer-funded benefits.
And I have yet to see a corporation huddled, damp and freezing, on a park bench or under an overpass, or having suffered abuse at the fists of a partner, or getting stuck without transportation miles from where they could sleep.
I can tell you this. Whatever you thought of Brenda Siegel’s experience or qualifications, she’d bring a different attitude to helping the vulnerable because unlike the vast majority of politicians, she’s been there. Was she the right person for the job? I don’t know. But I do know a Siegel administration wouldn’t be penny-pinching on emergency housing at the risk of letting Vermonters freeze to death.
Walters correctly identifies a huge double standard
Those conditions are horrible. The vast amt of homeless I would bet money do not have cars to get to the places they are supposed to be at. And the other conditions are also imo horrible. This winter will be bad for these poor Vermonters. Gov needs to put himself in their shoes. Shoes probably not warm boots.
“unlike the vast majority of politicians, she’s been there.”
This the major problem. The homeless are squeezed because our system more or less deems them as freeloaders, while the real freeloaders, the corporations, get everything they want of our tax dollars because few administrations officials and legislators have had to depend on these programs to keep from freezing to death.
Business as usual in the sociopath state of vermont, where a society is judged by how it treats its most marginalized and vulnerable citizens, but still f**** them when they’re down anyway. And why not? After all, what vermonter, while drinking their caramel latte, wants to see an intoxicated, drug addicted homeless man freezing his arse off while sitting on a cardboard box on a montpelier street corner begging for money? That kind of selfie doesn’t post well on twitter or facebook – even by self-absorbed vermont standards. No wonder vermont has the among the highest rates of social ills in the country. Vermont deserves exactly what it created. Be proud vermont! Proud Without Cause.