In a way, you’ve got to feel a little bit sorry for the Scott administration functionary who’s obliged to carry water for some sad bit of policy or other. They’re adequately compensated for putting their soul in storage, but they do run the risk of ascending to the gates of Heaven only to confront an angry-looking St. Peter demanding an explanation for their craven shillery. Today’s case in point: Shayla Livingston, policy director for the Agency of Human Services.
Per VTDigger’s indispensable “Final Reading,” Livingston was defending the administration’s desire to end the emergency housing program as quickly as possible, sending thousands of the unhoused off into the night with no plan. And she trotted out a brand-new, never-heard-before rationalization.
It’s not that the money is running out. It’s not that we can’t afford to extend the program into the warmer months, which until now had been the administration’s sotto voce position. No, they’re doing it out of a twisted sense of fairness.
“It’s a really hard thing to end a program like this. It’s a really, really hard thing. But just so you know, we are turning families away — today. They are calling DCF, with kids, and we say ‘So sorry. We don’t have a hotel room for you,’” Shayla Livingston, policy director for the Agency of Human Services, told the committee. “So I just want it to be very clear that we’re not housing all Vermonters right now. And if we just keep extending it, we’re going to continue to not be able to do that.”
You can’t accommodate all comers because Vermont’s homeless situation is so bad, and your solution is to kick everybody out? It’s better, in your view, for all of ’em to hit the streets than for some to be excluded?
The only way this is an excuse is if you put the welfare of AHS staffers ahead of the unhoused. It’s ” really, really hard “to turn away the homeless, you know. Please take that burden off our plates sooner rather than later.
I’m sorry, but this is pathetic.
Unfortunately, Livingston’s “argument” is likely to carry the day. That’s because the Senate Appropriations Committee, which has jurisdiction over the issue, appears bound and determined to end the program on March 31 or, at best, approve some piddling version of a springtime extension. You could tell from the comments of committee chair and officially branded Democratic Sen. Jane Kitchel during last week’s deliberations. She was clearly doing her level best to steer the committee against the full three-month extension approved by the House.
I have to wonder what’s going through the mind of Democratic/Progressive Senate President Pro Tem Phil Baruth, who’s on the Appropriations Committee and sat there quietly as Kitchel was deflating the extension balloon. Was he cringing inwardly? Would he prefer a full extension, or even a broader investment along the lines of “Bridges to Housing,” the plan put forward by a coalition of housing advocacy groups?
So why did Baruth sit there, in the words of the immortal Ernie Harwell, “like a house by the side of the road”? In a word, realpolitik. Even after the retirements of several senior senators, the old guard still holds sway in the seniority-friendly Senate. As any of the last three Pro Tems would tell you after a couple of adult beverages, you can’t ascend to Senate leadership without the blessing of the Jane Kitchels and Dick Mazzas and Dick Searses and Bobby Starrs who wield a lot of power (and, not at all coincidentally, are all committee chairs).
It’s kind of a deal with the devil, but you hope you can put forward a few progressive ideas even as you have to bow before the authority of [checks notes] someone you technically have authority over.
Which brings us back to our starting point. The Statehouse is full of people compromising their values for the sake of (a) occupying a Big Chair like Baruth, or (b) a paycheck like Livingston.
In the meantime, best wishes to the unhoused. At least they have the moral satisfaction of knowing that they’re all being treated — or mistreated — equally.
This is an issue of resource management. The best use of resources is to ensure that young children and families are housed. The adverse childhood experiences that come from homelessness have lifelong impacts on children. The tough part of governing is determining where and how best to use precious, finite resources. It’s not a good situation to be in – weighing the worthiness of a family with young children against an adult – but that is the situation that we’re in. Nobody should be homeless, but children and families should have priority.
“– weighing the worthiness of a family with young children against an adult – but that is the situation that we’re in.”
So true, so very true, but the thing to remember is that our homeless problem is something created by ourselves for ourselves (well, rather this nation’s neoliberal greed has created it) and we could solve it if we really wanted to.
Do we really want to solve it is the question?
“In the meantime, best wishes to the unhoused. At least they have the moral satisfaction of knowing that they’re all being treated — or mistreated — equally.”
It is sickening, absolutely sickening. No wonder little or nothing ever gets solved in the legislature.