Pamela Williams has been living at the South Burlington Holiday Inn since June. She said she’s been applying to jobs and searching for housing incessantly — but both are hard to come by in an economy decimated by Covid-19.
Now, Williams and about 140 other Holiday Inn guests experiencing homelessness are faced with even more urgency to find their next opportunity for shelter as winter approaches. That’s because the federal funding deadline that is largely propping up Vermont’s expanded homeless hotel voucher system is set to expire Dec. 30.
The deadline was presented by Paul Dragon, executive director of the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity (CVOEO), at a press conference held at the Holiday Inn Tuesday morning in tandem with U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt.
“We’ve been talking to the state about extending, and I think the state only has a limited amount of funding too, and they’re looking at all their possibilities as well,” Dragon said. “They’re aware and they want to be as helpful as possible.”
If another federal stimulus package isn’t passed, with funding for homeless services and shelters, Dragon said his office will have to find another way to rehouse those currently living at the Holiday Inn. Hundreds of others experiencing homelessness are also being housed in other hotels and motels across the state.
“The funding goes until the end of December,” Dragon said. “We’ll work with the state, which has been a wonderful partner, on a transition plan. And that means trying to find acceptable shelter for the folks who are here.”
When the pandemic hit in March, shelters shuttered and the state rushed to expand its hotel voucher system for people who were homeless. Individual hotel rooms were used to allow for social distancing and quarantining. The efforts have been effective — only one person experiencing homelessness has tested positive for Covid-19 in the state.
As of mid-September, there were 374 adults and 52 children being housed in Burlington hotels. Across the state, there were about 1,100, down from about 2,000 at the beginning of the summer.
Welch congratulated CVOEO staff for the success the hotel voucher program has seen during Covid. He referenced the contentious $2 trillion stimulus package negotiations between U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, which are moving forward, but slowly.
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Welch said he supports a new stimulus package and that it should come soon.
“It should be before the election because the pain is real, and the need is urgent,” Welch said.
In the meantime, he said he would also support legislation that would extend the Dec. 30 deadline that demands that the first package of federal Covid stimulus money, of which Vermont received $1.25 billion, be spent by the end of the year.
“That date was included in the original legislation back in April, I think, because there was hope that we’d be looking at the rearview mirror,” Welch said. “It’s still with us. So we have to extend that Dec. 30 date for at least a year.”
While more funding would keep the hotel voucher program running on a temporary basis, those like Williams who have been searching for long-term stable housing, say another big issue in Chittenden County is with the available housing stock. There simply isn’t enough affordable housing available in the state.
“Even if you fill out all the housing applications,” Williams said, “they can say nothing more than ‘You’re on the waiting list for a 2-to-5-year period.’”
Williams, 61, who spoke to VTDigger in June about her struggles to find work and housing during the pandemic, said she was recently able to pick up a few hours as a virtual counselor after her seasonal job with Home Depot recently ended. Still, it’s only a few hours a week.
“I would love it if something comes up that’s more like 30 hours a week that’s sustainable, that leads to getting benefits,” Williams said.
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