Business & Economy

Homeless people need a larger role in solving the crisis, advocates say

“What needs redistribution is political power,” read the sign carried by Morgan Brown at a Homelessness Awareness Day event Thursday on the steps of the Statehouse in Montpelier. Photo by Anne Galloway/VTDigger
“What needs redistribution is political power,” read the sign carried by Morgan Brown at a Homelessness Awareness Day event Thursday on the steps of the Statehouse in Montpelier. Photo by Anne Galloway/VTDigger

“One doesn’t always recover, one survives,” says Morgan Brown, a formerly homeless man who advocates for other Vermonters struggling to find and keep housing.

Speaking with tears in his eyes to a group assembled on the Statehouse steps Thursday to commemorate Homelessness Awareness Day, Brown shared his experience of privation as a child, watching his mother suffer in a domestic abuse situation and the off-and-on homelessness that has punctuated his life since age 17.

“I tried my best. No one, for better or worse, get’s where they’re at on their own.”


“My last go-around was 12 years. It’s not by choice,” he said, “I tried my best. No one, for better or worse, get’s where they’re at on their own.”

Through much of the vigil, Brown stood behind the politicians, service providers and advocates holding a sign that read “What needs redistribution is political power.” When it was his turn to speak, he reminded the gathering that “Programs and funding are important, but what people need most is to be able to speak and represent themselves.”

Angus Chaney, director of housing for the Agency of Human Services, said he’s often asked how many homeless people there are in Vermont.

“The answer, which doesn’t need any caveats and which has been true for a number of decades, is too many,” Chaney said.

Homelessness is the result of economic pressures like income inequality and the “obscene” disparity between people’s paychecks and the cost of housing, Chaney said. Those pressures become enmeshed with families’ more personal struggles with addiction, illness, trauma, job loss and other crises.

“For over 30 years Vermont’s response to helping people with emergency housing needs was a motel,” said Dave Yacavone, commissioner of the Department of Children and Families, “Thank you all for your advocacy, for reaching out to your neighbors and spreading the word that our response has to be different than simply offering someone a motel.”

House Speaker Shap Smith, D-Morrisville, said housing is a human right that, in a country as wealthy as the U.S., no one should be without. Smith called for investments in the people and infrastructure that will bring good jobs, education and housing opportunities.

His chamber passed a concurrent resolution later Thursday officially recognizing Jan. 9 as Homelessness Awareness Day.

Testifying before the Senate Health and Welfare Committee on Thursday morning, Linda Ryan, director of Samaritan House in St. Albans and co-chair of the governor’s recently formed poverty council, urged lawmakers to adopt its recommendations.

“It’s a good chance to take a holistic look at how we can put a dent in poverty,” Ryan said.

Her shelter has seen ajump in the number of bed-nights – the total number of beds occupied – in the past year from 3,500 to 5,100. A steep increase in the number of families seeking shelter is also troubling, Ryan said.

“Quite a few people who are currently homeless thought that they might come and speak today,” said Lauren Sales with Another Way, a community center offering alternative mental health services in Montpelier. “It occurs to me that they would have to miss their one meal of the day and stand out in the cold to do that.”

Hunger and homelessness are inseparable, Sales said, and she thanked Vermont’s soup kitchens for their work helping people survive.

She echoed Brown’s call for greater involvement of homeless and formerly homeless people in policy decisions, saying that the people who have been there and triumphed are an essential source of wisdom in finding solutions.

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  • Fred Woogmaster

    The wealth imbalance and the accompanying power imbalance stifles the voice of the true majority.

    I would encourage Mr. Brown to run for Mayor of Montpelier. Although I live and vote outside of Montpelier, I would work in his campaign.

    • Although it might be true that an extreme imbalance of wealth further leads and then enforces an imbalance of political and social power, it is also true that what in fact was a pre-existing and growing political and social power structure pre-dates the current political, social and financial structures in place and came about by means of sheer will, exploitation, opportunism as well as use of force at times more than it did by merely obscene financial accumulation and monopolies alone, at least in certain instances and cases: i.e., It has also come about by those without much of their own and who sought to accumulate and monopolize financial wealth as well as political and social power, not just those who already had much of their own. There are many examples of this throughout history. All of which to suggest that it can and does work both ways.

      While I appreciate the encouragement and support, as I have mentioned to others who have urged me to run for political office in the past as well as more recently, I have of course considered the prospect, more than once; however keep coming to the same conclusion and years ago have since decided that it is best I do not run for political office, nor consider doing so in the future either. It would not be what I do best and could take away from what needs doing. When one is in political office it can be harder to do and say what needs doing and saying, whereas as an activist or concerned citizen one is far less restricted. In addition, I would chafe at representing others in such an official capacity, including because I do not care to take responsibility for making decisions on behalf of others, especially any decisions that would have either unintended or adverse consequences (or both). My preference is to work together with people in a vastly different fashion and I have long held the view that legislative arenas, much like courts and the like, represent the failures of a system or democracy, not its successes; most of the time it is where the worse comes out, not our best. Much of the time, it seems that anyone who has ever tried to work within it and then attempt to get the political process to be and do better as well as differently ends up getting run over by the bus that is usually driven by others who not only have their own agenda, but only have their own interests at heart. History has shown this to be true over and over, sadly, so has the present. Sometimes, yet not always of course, those of us on the outside of those political stages (read: theaters) can have as much or possibly more impact on the process than those who are the actors of the show. This is part of my perspective based on observation over the years anyway.

      • Paul Lorenzini

        That was great!

  • The problem with Vermont is the Government! The problem with our country is the Government! These people have proven over and over again that they will fail! They will fail because they always work for the profits of corporations above the rights of the people. We send representatives to Montpelier to represent us and the corps send lobbyist with pockets full of money! It’s always about the money – I hope the new Campaign Finance Disclosure Bill gets passed ,then we will be able to get a better view.

  • rosemarie jackowski

    Morgan Brown for Governor !!!

    • lol (laughing out loud)

      Although I could certainly use the income and would not being chauffeured around:
      Please, no! Do not wish that upon me.

      Thank you anyway, Rosemarie.


      • i.e., … *(not to mind receiving the meals allowance as well, if that is still among the benefits received; why being beyond me)* and would not *mind* being chauffeured around *either*: …

        • ugh! with apologies for an error and correction: i.e.,

          … (not to *mention* receiving the meals allowance as well, if that is still among the benefits received; why being beyond me) …


          One can not understand why the Governor and members of the state legislature deserve a meals allowance, particularly when they are proposing to cut or level funding various programs aimed towards those most in need, not too mention when the Governor with all his gubernatorial salary as well as his personal wealth could well afford to pay for his own meals many times over when others can not do so and go without. This does not appear to me to be justifiable at all.

          • Paul Lorenzini

            They receive a meals allowance as a matter of economic stimulus. How would the local restaurants survive if the legislators all brought a bag lunch? By receiving a meals allowance the wealth trickles down to those in need. lol

      • rosemarie jackowski

        Morgan…don’t start relaxing yet. We just might write you in and draft you….or maybe, you should consider becoming president of UVM. That $447,000 salary and the updated mansion would be a good place for you and your friends.

        Come to think about it – that mansion would be a perfect homeless shelter.

        • No! Period!


          Not a homeless shelter, no, but rather mansions like that could be better used if turned into permanent, safe, decent, affordable as well as accessible housing for those most in need instead.

  • Vermont has a terrible homeless problem,

    Vermont has a terrible drug problem,

    Vermont has a terrible school funding problem that its citizen’s can’t afford,

    Vermont has a terrible job loss problem,

    Vermont has a terrible underfunded state employee pension problem,

    Vermont has a terrible health care reform effort thats spinning out of control,

    Vermont has a terrible problem with its best and brightest young people leaving the state,

    Vermont has a terrible list of very serious problems.

    Governor Shumlin’s conclusion and message to the people…..the State is strong.

    Bottom line, Vermont has a terrible problem with its Governor leveling with the people!

  • Nancy Baer

    @ Tim Smith..

    With all due respect sir..

    A place to live IS a human right

    Health Care IS a human right..

    A LIVABLE WAGE job IS a human right

    Unfortunately we are not all able to EARN a home or healthcare as you might think..low paying jobs are there for a reason all right..for teenagers, college kids, and retirees. Are you kidding me? NOONE could support a family..much less themselves on minimum wage. Unfortunately we are not all ABLE to EARN the things you talk about. It would be wonderful if we lived in a perfect world..but we don’t.
    Compassion and empathy for those less fortunate is truly a beautiful thing. We are not “doomed” if we embrace those less fortunate and give them a HAND UP and not a HAND OUT as you would suggest we do.

  • Nancy Baer

    The very people that represent US(really?)in Montpelier continue to receive a meals allowance on the taxpayers. These very same folks are financially able to buy their own meals! What will it take for us to open our eyes to who is TRULY being represented in our state and in every state in the USA? IT AIN’T US. It’s the lobbyists who pad our representatives pockets with LOTS OF MONEY to vote for what their bosses(BIG CORPORATIONS) want. There is so much poverty..even here in our little state of Vermont. HOW can our Governor and the folks that represent us(?) in Montpelier have the audacity to frequent restaurants PAID FOR WITH THE TAXPAYERS HARD EARNED MONEY?! SHAME ON YOU FOLKS!!!