Quick Follow-Up: How Many Lawmakers Have Experienced Homelessness?

The latest installment of VTDigger’s series on legislative ethics and financial disclosure is essentially a redo of one of my all-time favorite stories about the Statehouse: Taylor Dobbs’ “House of Landlords,” a 2019 exploration of how many lawmakers are landlords, property managers or contractors, and how that affects lawmaking.

The answer then, as it is now, is (a) a whole awful lot who (b) seem disinclined to enact any laws that might affect the interests of the propertied class.

Well, the Digger story focuses on landlords versus renters and as in 2019, the former are thick on the ground while the latter are scarce as hen’s teeth. One consequence of this imbalance, now as then, is a lack of movement on creating a statewide rental registry. Similarly, there’s no action to be seen on limiting no-cause evictions. The very concept is gunned down in a hail of anecdotes about longsuffering landlords and dissolute tenants. Rarely if ever do we hear the other side of the story — hardworking tenants who pay their rent on time and struggle to get their landlords to do necessary maintenance or repair.

So let’s take the next logical step, shall we? The Legislature is deep in discussions about how to avoid — actually, whether to avoid — a crisis in unsheltered homelessness about to hit Vermont. How many legislative decision-makers have ever experienced homelessness?

I’m guessing the answer is “hardly any.” And if a lack of tenants affects rental policymaking, how does a lack of experience with homelessness shape the Legislature’s diffident response to the scheduled end of the motel voucher program?

Must make it a lot easier to sit through dire warnings of humanitarian crisis, give the witness your sincere thanks, and barrel on blithely toward the precipice.

Well, to be fair, there are also offerings of sincere regret. Tom Stevens, chair of the House General & Housing Committee, as quoted in Vermont Daily Chronicle:

“We have to buy tents and sleeping bags for Vermonters, because it’s summer. …. For my personal morals, that’s a difficult thing to hear.

I’m sure it’s a difficult thing to “hear.” Just imagine how difficult it will be to experience.

Since the legislative record is short on personal testimony, let’s turn to former gubernatorial candidate Brenda Siegel’s Twitter feed, where she has been sharing stories of unhoused people currently living in motels under the state voucher program. They really bring that abstract “difficulty” into three-dimensional, flesh and blood life.

“Would likely end up dying” may seem a bit melodramatic to those sitting in comfortable chairs, but it’s unfortunately spot-on. People will literally die if we end the voucher program.

It’s a shame if this causes our political class some difficult listening. This session has brought some good steps on overdose prevention, thanks in no small part to the number of lawmakers who have personal or family experience with substance use disorders. So far, there’s been no similar wave of affinity with the looming crisis of homelessness.


7 thoughts on “Quick Follow-Up: How Many Lawmakers Have Experienced Homelessness?

  1. Lucinda Chornyak

    All the notes you included from those experiencing homelessness are ppl with medical conditions that severely impact their lives. Maybe we need to look at underlying causes of homelessness and inability to afford medical care, etc.

    1. John S. Walters Post author

      Small sample. There are lots of stories. Many are women fleeing abusive spouses. Some actually have jobs but still can’t find housing and might lose their jobs if they have to live on the streets. Some are struggling their way through job training and can’t find a place to live. Our horrible health care “system” is a contributor but it’s not the only one.

  2. P.

    Whenever can I vote for Brenda Siegel again?
    Been homeless in Vermont more times then I want to count and its only thanks to family I not homeless at this time.
    Not due to substance use/ abuse but long documented medical condition.
    Every politician should spend two weeks in tent in a rainy Vermont October.

  3. gunslingeress

    The Vermont Legislature seems to have no conscience problems passing legislation which allows other human beings to die. They passed such legislation and then sent it on to voters when they made abortion legal until the moment of birth. They passed such legislation when they allowed physician-assisted suicide with doctors and pharmacists being able to provide lethal agents to help people kill themselves. And now we expect them to grow a conscience when homeless people plead for help?? The liberal-dominated Vermont Legislature is anti-human and callous. Their unaffordable heat standards will also contribute to deaths as people cannot afford to heat their homes. I feel for unhoused people. Maybe that is part of the price (all of the above legislative acts) we are now paying for our voter love affairs with ultra leftist lawmakers — continually voting them into office. The Vermont Legislature is like a ship without a rudder, blown here and there by the ill winds of the latest unfeeling leftist agenda. And you can’t blame Republicans for all of this. The Democrats and Progressives hold a supermajority in the Legislature. They are legislating (or failing to do so) like a runaway train.

      1. gunslingeress

        But the Republicans haven’t held a majority for decades in Montpelier. This problem is owned by the Democrats and Progressives. The housing shortage and affordable housing assistance has gotten much worse since they took power in Montpelier. Instead of passing stupid and un-needed legislation like “The Unaffordable Heat Act” and messing around with trying to impose ranked choice voting on us Vermonters, as well as the examples I mentioned earlier, they could dedicate more of their efforts to solving the housing problem and providing funding for programs to assist the unhoused. But they really don’t care. They love Act 250 and government restrictions (control) too much. They want to restrict housing in the name of climate change. They have helped create a housing problem as far as I can tell. They do not act like kind people. They do not seem to care that they are causing all kinds of problems for ordinary Vermonters, especially middle and lower income Vermonters. They are more in love with their unfeeling agendas driven by out-of-state and global special interests regardless of how they hurt the people of their own state.

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