Business & Economy

Homelessness down, but still too high, say advocates

Members of the public and lawmakers attend a vigil on homelessness Thursday at the Statehouse. Second from right, in a black jacket, is House Speaker Mitzi Johnson. Photo by Erin Mansfield/VTDigger
Affordable housing advocates stood outside the Statehouse in the 27-degree weather Thursday to urge lawmakers to do more to fight homelessness.

More than 100 supporters, nearly a dozen lawmakers and members of Gov. Phil Scott’s administration attended the annual event organized by the Vermont Coalition to End Homelessness and the Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition.

Rep. Helen Head, D-South Burlington, front left, the chair of the House Committee on General, Housing and Military Affairs, attends a vigil about homelessness Thursday. Photo by Erin Mansfield/VTDigger
The groups say homelessness in Vermont is on its way down, based on an annual point-in-time report, which measures how many people in Vermont are homeless on a given day of the year.

The number of people homeless on Jan. 26, 2016, was 1,102, a 28 percent decrease from 1,523 on Jan. 27, 2015. That drop was the second biggest in the country, according to the coalitions.

“While 1,100 people is an improvement, one is still too many, and I hope to work with all of you to move forward,” House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, D-Grand Isle, told the advocates.

Johnson highlighted her move Wednesday to expand the House Committee on General, Housing and Military Affairs from eight members to 11. She said housing is “a big problem to solve, and we’re taking good steps.”

Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman said the role of state government is to make sure everybody has the conditions to thrive and succeed. “And as we all know, if people don’t have housing, that’s a pretty fundamental condition,” he said.

Zuckerman encouraged Vermonters to continue advocating on the issue. He added: “It is exciting to read about the progress we have been making, but it is so sad that every year we come back and we still don’t have this issue resolved.”

Al Gobeille, the new secretary of the Agency of Human Services, attended on behalf of Gov. Phil Scott. Gobeille said he is entering the job “with an outstretched hand and an open mind” to help continue progress in the fight against homelessness.

“I don’t come in as the secretary with all the answers,” he told the advocates. “I don’t claim even to have all the questions. But I’m here to work with all of you.”

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  • Tom Wheaton

    I would be interested to see the breakdown in the homeless population of families vs. non-families, the single male population, reoccurring homelessness (year to year), average length of Vermont residency of the population, percentage of the homeless that are without jobs (I realize this is likely extremely high), and other stats that really allow the state to identify the highest priority population that is most vulnerable.

  • edward letourneau

    Why are these people staying in a place they can’t get a job or a place to live?

    • Patricia Goodrich

      They can’t afford to leave.

    • Perhaps these homeless can’t afford to winter in Florida.

    • Aula DeWitt

      Among other reasons, Ed, many of them have strong ties to the area. While there are those who are chronically homeless, there are also those who are going through a period of homelessness and who ultimately are able to obtain housing and a way to pay for it. There are quite a few people in both groups who have these ties to the local area and do not want to leave.

    • Walter Carpenter

      “Why are these people staying in a place they can’t get a job or a place to live?”

      Why should they leave? Why cannot they stay here and be paid the wages in order to be able to live here, or anywhere else for that matter?

    • edward letourneau

      I see the vote is 2 to 1 against the concept of self-reliance.

  • dawn butterfield

    Actually, Ed, a lot of the folks we see at Capstone who do NOT have homes actually DO have jobs. I am amazed at the resiliency demonstrated by people who manage to find different places to sleep, shower, and eat and still maintain employment. Talk about self-reliance!

    There are many, many reasons why people lose their housing, from disasters like floods or fires, to a couple of bad decisions that escalate, to the high cost of living coupled with low-paying jobs. Sometimes it’s a system stacked against folks with lower incomes; sometimes it’s just bad luck. Most of us are only a paycheck or two away from being in a similar situation. I’m proud to work for an agency and in a community that values our interdependence on each other and believes that all people deserve safe, secure homes.