Tag Archives: Brenda Siegel

With Every Passing Day, Vermont’s Disgrace Gets Worse

Day Two of The Great Unhousing passed with far less fanfare than Day One, but the human toll was just as high and the consequences just as shameful. Our area of central Vermont was hit by a tremendous rainstorm yesterday afternoon, and I had to wonder how many of the newly-unhoused were being thoroughly soaked and their possessions destroyed by the downpour. Too bad the state’s “Adverse Weather Policy” is only designed to minimize the number of people who actually freeze to death. Dangerous heat and severe storms? Eh, that’s okay, I guess.

(The image above is taken from a video posted on Twitter by Brenda Siegel. I used a screenshot where the person’s face is obscured because I want to be illustrative without being exploitive. We do need to be reminded of the humanity behind the statistics and the policy debates without reducing our fellow Vermonters to political props. I appreciate Siegel continuing to bear witness; somebody’s got to.)

There was little media coverage on Day Two because there wasn’t anything “new,” just another day of unnecessary misery. Just another day when people who were living on the edge come closer to falling over. Just another day when the bland professions of our political class ring hollow. Heck, the only thing that’s got them hot and bothered is a bit of vandalism on their doorsteps.

At this moment I have a hard time ginning up any outrage on their behalf. We’d all like to feel secure in our homes, and I understand that. It’s just that some people don’t have homes at all, and our leaders played an active role in making that happen.

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Dignity: A Modest Proposal

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. conceived of the Poor People’s Campaign as a way to bring the voices of the poor to Washington. D.C. It was one of those radical ideas conveniently memory-holed by conservatives in their annual one-day co-opting of Dr. King, but it was central to his efforts to bring a measure of economic justice to America. He never got there in person, thanks to an assassin’s bullet.

The debate over extending Vermont’s motel voucher program has made it clear we need a Poor People’s Campaign right here in Vermont, because it’s obvious that the voices of the poor need to be heard as loudly as any other in the halls of the Statehouse.

Well, to be fully accurate, one part of the debate has made that clear. It’s the part provided by Brenda Siegel, who’s been bringing the stories of voucher clients to our attention and, in so doing, forcing The Comfortable to feel a wee bit less comfy.

So, modest proposal: A lobbying organization which, for placeholder purposes, I’m calling “Dignity.” Anyone who does the actual work gets to take as little or as much of this idea as they want.

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Blessed Are the Policymakers, For They Shall Be Insulated From the Consequences of Their Inaction

As the Legislature steams toward adjournment in, what, 48 hours from now?, efforts continue to find a way of solving the homelessness crisis staring us in the face. Or at least a face-saving way of putting a Band-Aid on that brain tumor.

There may have been an outcome by the time you read this. The House-Senate conference committee on the FY2024 budget has held multiple meetings this week. Each time they’ve skipped over the housing issue; at the close of yesterday’s meeting, Senate Appropriations chair Jane Kitchel alluded to negotiations on an unspecified issue holding up the completion of the compromise budget. One has to assume she’s talking about housing. It’s the only issue that’s sparked a last-ditch revolt by lawmakers who’d rather not be responsible for mass evictions from the motel voucher program. At least, they’d rather not be perceived as responsible.

But no matter which way this goes, it’s already a policymaking failure of epic proportions. We’re approaching mid-May. Eligibility standards for the voucher program will tighten in three weeks, and the program will virtually disappear one month after that. Decisions should have been made long ago. If the budget includes reasonable funding for vouchers, there will be a mad scramble to implement the extension. If it doesn’t, well, it’s all hands on deck, five alarm fire, Defcon One, and the little dog saying “It’s Fine” in the middle of a conflagration.

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A Faint Glimmer of Light


After months of dire warnings from housing advocates, after several weeks of repeated posts on This Here Blog (starting on March 26), a handful of lawmakers has finally stood up and taken notice.

With a single week left until scheduled adjournment, six members of the House Democratic caucus announced they would not vote to override a gubernatorial veto of the FY24 budget unless there was funding for a transition strategy from the motel voucher program to a replenished supply of permanent housing.

This takes real guts. They’re taking a public stand in opposition to Legislative leadership, which has been 100% committed to ending the voucher program by the end of June despite the fact that two thousand-plus Vermonters would be kicked out on the streets. The budget has sailed through the House and Senate, and is now before a conference committee tasked with crafting a consensus spending plan.

And now comes a squadron from the Rebel Alliance with Rep. Mari Cordes playing the part of Luke Skywalker, determined to drop a proton torpedo down the hatch of the budgetary Death Star. It’s inspiring, but it also leaves me wondering why it took this long.

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The Cognitive Dissonance is Getting Thick Around Here

There’s a boatload of infuriating details in a story by VTDigger’s Lola Duffort about the ending of the motel voucher program. One of them stood out for me, not because it’s the most telling or most impactful, but because it’s so painfully ironic.

The story opens with Rebecca Duprey, a voucher client who’s struggled to regain her footing after years of evading a violently abusive ex-husband. Her motel stay has given her half a chance, but now she’s facing a return to living in her car with her two sons.

Duprey’s case strikes at the heart of the lobotomy-style disconnect between state policymaking and, well, basic humanity. As it happens, she’s had years-long relationships with two prominent lawmakers — Rep. Anne Donahue and Sen. Anne Cummings. Each has offered assistance to Duprey, and yet each has voted in favor of an FY2024 budget that will force her back on the streets.

That’s all bad enough, but here’s the topper.

When the two lawmakers learned that Duprey was back in Washington County and spending cold nights in her car, they did not reach out to administration officials or state workers, but instead to Brenda Siegel, an advocate and former gubernatorial candidate, who took over Duprey’s casework and found her the room she currently lives in.

That would be the same Brenda Siegel who’s been treated so shabbily by lawmakers personally inconvenienced by her advocacy. She has, in fact, become the face of the housing advocacy community because, due to her lopsided defeat in last November’s gubernatorial election, she’s an easy political figure to dismiss. Which makes the issue easier to dismiss.

And these two prominent lawmakers turned to Siegel to help when they didn’t think anyone else would. Hmm.

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Bobby Starr [Reportedly] Goes Off the Deep End

When last we saw nominally Democratic Sen. Bobby Starr, he was pontificating about all the supposedly “able-bodied” homeless folk livin’ it up in state-funded motel rooms when they oughta be goin’ out and gettin’ a job. Or, as he put it, “The able-bodied, it’s time to go to work and have a place for them to work and earn and provide for their own, as far as I’m concerned.”

That was his argument for ending the motel voucher program on schedule this summer. He didn’t say we’re coddling the ungrateful lazy poors, but that was the umistakable message he was sending. Shades of the Welfare Queen.

But wait, there’s more!

Starr reportedly expanded on his asshattery in a conversation after the hearing with Brenda Siegel, housing advocate and 2022 Democratic candidate for governor. We’ve only got Siegel’s word for this, although she says there were other witnesses. But there are good reasons to believe her; she’s still lobbying for a voucher extension in the FY24 budget, and has no motivation at all to slander a lawmaker, not even Bobby Starr.

Siegel posted her account of the exchange <a href="http://<iframe src="https://www.facebook.com/plugins/post.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fbrendasiegelvermont%2Fposts%2Fpfbid0rStfwv74gYMA1rKx3UFnDaWsvUzieQtoUrvkzrr164kvwReLXmS63nun9cxGRuLKl&show_text=true&width=500&quot; width="500" height="296" style="border:none;overflow:hidden" scrolling="no" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="true" allow="autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; picture-in-picture; web-share">on her Facebook page. Highlights follow.

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Thoughts and Prayers and Jazz Hands

The fix was in from the start. There was never any serious consideration given by any legislative committee or political party, for that matter, to addressing the tsunami of homelessness that’s headed our way this summer. At hearing after hearing, in committee after committee, housing advocates were given brief windows to testify, and their testimony was dismissed as quickly as it was delivered.

The most blatant example happened Friday afternoon in the Senate Appropriations Committee, which was finishing its work on the FY2024 budget. In presenting the housing section of the budget, committee chair Jane Kitchel brought up the advocates’ “desire” to continue the motel voucher program beyond July 1.

Yep, “desire.” She used that word not once, not twice, but three times. “Desire” as in a deep-seated inexplicable craving, not a reasoned policy choice.

Look. Nobody “desires” to continue the voucher program. It’s a flawed and inefficient piece of patchwork. But it’s the only available way to prevent the sudden unhousing of thousands of Vermonters this summer.

Kitchel also omitted the rest of the advocates’ proposal. They put forward a solid, proven plan to use the voucher program as a temporary bridge to more permanent solutions. Pssh, details. Kitchel closed her colloquy by explaining, “I want to raise that because I don’t want anyone to think that I did not bring this up for discussion.”

Gee, thanks. Bring it up by mischaracterizing it and making it clear that any actual discussion would be unwelcome. Not that members of the committee were interested in exploring the subject. They didn’t want to spend any more time on the issue than they had to. There was a lot of looking downward, staring into the distance, shuffling of papers, studious checking of electronic devices, and hardly any discussion.

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Someone on Senate Appropriations Did Something Despicable Today

Here’s a new one! Today, a legislative committee made up of six Democrats and one Republican doxxed the Vermont Democratic Party’s most recent candidate for governor.

The above image is a partial screenshot of an email sent by Brenda Siegel to the committee. Siegel’s personal email address was redacted by me, not by anyone at the committee.

That’s right, they posted an email from Siegel on the Legislature’s official website and included Siegel’s personal email address. And Siegel’s email was clearly NOT intended to be official testimony. You can tell because of the “Hi there” salutation and the fact that further down in the email, Siegel specifically said that she would be submitting testimony later in the day. So someone on the committee deliberately decided to publish an email that wasn’t intended for the official record, and in the process expose Siegel’s personal email address.

Like I said, despicable.

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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?

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The Acceptable Cruelty Calculation

From the rumor front, there’s good news and bad news.

The good news: State Senate budget writers appear to be pondering additional funds for housing the homeless.

The bad news: They may be trying to do it on the cheap.

This week, the Senate Appropriations Committee is hammering out its version of a spending plan for fiscal year 2024. One big pending decision is how to deal with the looming end of the emergency housing program that serves 80% of Vermont’s unhoused through motel vouchers. If the program ends as scheduled in May and June, some 1,800 households could be unsheltered.

The House, after much dithering, added $20 million to its budget for related spending. Half would go toward purchasing vacant mobile homes, and the other half would boost support services for the unhoused. But the voucher program would end on schedule, and how the wise heads of the House failed to see the potentially catastrophic effects of this, politically, financially and morally, I have no idea.

On to Round 2 in the Senate, where two policy committees allowed token testimony from housing advocates. The latter presented a clear plan for extending emergency shelter while implementing a proven strategy to permanently expand available housing options and make a serious dent in the homelessness crisis.

Things looked bleak, but there are hints that the budget-writing Senate Appropriations Committee is looking to fund some version of said strategy.

Great, yes? Well, glass half full, glass half empty.

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