Should be an interesting, perhaps pivotal, hearing Wednesday morning. Two Senate committees will hear from a series of housing advocates about the looming end of Vermont’s emergency housing program. Will their voices be heard, or will they get a polite brush-off as they did in the House?
Tomorrow’s witnesses include former gubernatorial candidates Brenda Siegel and Sue Minter (the latter now head of Capstone Community Action), Anne Sosin of the Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition, Christine Hazzard of the Brattleboro Housing Coaltion, and Susan Aronoff of the Vermont Developmental Disabilities Council. It’s kind of an all-star cast for housing insecurity.
But my question is: Where is everybody else?
Given the potentially wide-ranging consequences of ending the motel voucher program, there ought to be a line down the hallway, out the door, and around the building of people wanting to give Senate decision-makers a piece of their minds. The fact that there isn’t is a measure of the cluelessness of institutional Vermont about what might happen this summer.
Reminder: “When we cut funding for homelessness, we’re simply displacing those costs and impacts,” Sosin told a House committee. The total cost of everything will be higher than the cost of simply continuing the motel voucher program. Who’s paying those costs?
How about… the entire medical community, from nurses to top execs? Frontline providers are going to see more traffic in emergency rooms and more inpatient admissions for a variety of issues. We’ve already got a chronic undersupply of inpatient mental health care; it figures to get quite a bit worse.
The John Brumsteds of the world won’t have to get their actual hands actually dirty, but the impact on their institutions’ bottom lines ought to be giving them serious heartburn at least.
Much of the impact will fall on municipalities. You’d think the Vermont League of Cities and Towns might declare an interest in preventing their members from taking it in the shorts. You’d think the mayors would be tramping to the Statehouse to beg the state to bear the responsibility instead of fobbing it off.
How about the municipal workforce? First responders like police, fire, and EMTs generally get a warm reception from official Vermont. Why aren’t their leaders descending on Montpelier?
How about municipal sanitation workers? I mean, it can’t be fun to demolish homeless encampments, and we figure to get more of them if the voucher program ends. The unhoused won’t simply disappear, much as we might prefer they did.
I hear the Vermont State Employees Association claims to have some sway over legislative policymaking. Why isn’t the VSEA in there supporting its members in human services, who are in danger of losing their primary option for sheltering the unhoused?
Ditto the Vermont-NEA. Our public schools would face new challenges dealing with a sudden spike in unhoused children.
We’ve already got an out-of-control substance use problem with record overdoses. You think that situation will get any better if hundreds upon hundreds of Vermonters are evicted from motel rooms this summer? Are those organizations weighing in on the voucher issue? Maybe they are, but I haven’t seen it.
Oh, and finally, chambers of commerce and downtown merchants. They’re often heard complaining about vagrancy, substance use and small-bore crime on their doorsteps. They ain’t seen nothing yet.
Last week, I had some communication with the head of a Vermont professional association involved in one of the above endeavors. This person had a very superficial understanding of the voucher issue, and absolutely no clue that the association’s members might have an interest. I provided some information and references. Haven’t heard back. And I don’t see that group on any witness lists.
Are all these people fated to wake up in July and realize they’ve got a shitshow on their hands? It seems that way. The disconnect is real and absolute. These associations, institutions and unions are doing their members no favors whatsoever with their lack of awareness — or even interest — in the emergency housing issue.
“These associations, institutions and unions are doing their members no favors whatsoever with their lack of awareness — or even interest — in the emergency housing issue.”
They’re not the homeless ones, so who in the hell cares about what’s coming at us this summer.