It’s standard practice for a legislative body to pass a bill and for leadership to issue a self-congratulatory press release. That’s what the House majority did after passing a budget bill. Which, OK, fine, passing a budget is a big tough job. A self-back-pat is not out of order.
But right in the middle, we get this:
This year and every year, House Democrats lead on supporting Vermonters in every community and every county. These shared priorities include: protecting Vermonters who are most vulnerable, sustaining support networks that keep people housed and fed, improving access to affordable childcare for working families, supporting thriving schools, investing in our workforce and economy, establishing paid family and medical leave, and meeting the needs of older Vermonters.
Wait, what’s that? “Protecting Vermonters who are most vulnerable”? “Sustaining support networks that keep people housed and fed”? Come the fuck on.
(Pardon my French, but in this case it’s justified.)
This budget bill will end the emergency housing program that currently provides shelter to more than 80% of Vermonters experiencing homelessness.
This bill doesn’t protect the most vulnerable. It throws them out on the street.
There are many things in the budget the Dems can be proud of. But “protecting Vermonters who are most vulnerable” isn’t one of them. The specific failure to do so may be the single worst thing about this budget.
The next phrase, “sustaining support networks,” gives the game away if you read it closely. Sure, they did some stuff on “sustaining support networks that keep people housed and fed.” They added money in a bunch of places to social services that had gotten shortchanged in the Scott administration’s budget. They specifically added $10 million at the last minute to “supportive services” for the unhoused.
But “supportive services” doesn’t include actual roofs over actual heads. It’s a turn of phrase that’s artful — and deeply misleading. The House budget does provide some shelter for some people, but nowhere near enough.
We are starting to hear stories from the front lines, and we’re only going to get more and more as we approach and pass by the end of the voucher program this summer. VTDigger’s Patrick Crowley told the story of a homeless man who’s found shelter — and hope — in Burone of Burlington’s “pods.” Anne Sosin of the Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition included stories of voucher clients in her latest presentation, including this from a motel resident in the Upper Valley:
I really need to be inside because you know my health would just just go downhill fast. Before I was lucky enough to stay here. I was in my car and my doctor said that if I didn’t get inside that I was gonna die. So then somehow I get into this program and I’m so thankful because, you know, I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for this program.”
The House budget would send this person’s health into a tailspin.
Brenda Siegel, policy advocate and former candidate for governor, has posted a series of first-person accounts in her Twitter feed. This, from a man housed at a motel in Berlin.
…before we were able to receive help we were living from out of my truck. I am disabled as well as my brother who I am a caregiver for. Without this program being funded we will be back out on the streets… this will risk my brothers’ life and my own life as well.
I’ve been told, second hand, that one member of the House has claimed that some people would prefer living in their vehicles. That man would beg to differ.
And this, from a woman living at a motel in Rutland with her three kids, aged 9, 4, and 2.
We have no family and nowhere else to go if the motel program ends, we’ll be homeless on the cold streets. … Please extend the motel program so I can get on my feet again… Housing is non existent in Rutland and all over Vermont it seems. You can’t just turn your backs and throw us all away and on the streets like garbage…
Oh yes they can. I refer you to the headline of a recent post:
I’m sure these stories will make House Democrats uncomfortable. They damn well should. These are the words of our most vulnerable — the ones House leadership blithely took credit for protecting.
Well, they’d better get used to discomfort. Siegel and Sosin and others are not going to stop telling the stories of people who normally go unheard and unseen. I’m sure the media will tell some stories, and provide coverage of actual evictions on July 1.
And I’m not going to stop bringing up the Democrats’ failure to protect the most vulnerable until they stop failing.