The Vermont Conversation with David Goodman is a VTDigger podcast that features in-depth interviews on local and national issues with politicians, activists, artists, changemakers and citizens who are making a difference. Listen below, and subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or Spotify to hear more.
Where will homeless Vermonters live?
That question has come to the forefront as more than 540 households were slated to lose their rooms in motels this week. Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020, Vermont’s general assistance housing program has utilized vacant motel rooms for Vermonters who would otherwise be homeless. VTDigger has reported that some 700 people were forced out of the program July 1, while people with children, or with disabilities, or who were fleeing dangerous or life-threatening conditions were allowed to remain. Vermont’s emergency motel stays were slated to end on Sept. 23 — despite the fact that federal funds are available to cover the motel housing until the end of the year.
Vulnerable Vermonters have received a last-minute reprieve. On Sept. 21, Gov. Phil Scott announced a “30-day pause” in the effort to close the motel housing program. His announcement followed criticism from legislators and advocates.
One such advocate is Addie Lentzner, a senior at Arlington High School. She helped organize a letter signed by dozens of owners of emergency hotels around the state that declared: “We as motel owners call on Governor Scott to use the federal money to reinstate the GA Motel Program through December, and ensure that there is safe and consistent housing available when the time comes to transition out. At this point, every available motel room should be used for shelter. Now is the time to act before almost 600 people are kicked out.” The letter pushes back on arguments by state officials that motel owners want voucher recipients gone to free up rooms for leaf-peeping tourists.
On this Vermont Conversation, we hear from people who are directly affected by the motel housing program, including Laila Lakshmair and her son, Raj Singh, who operate the Bradford Motel; Olive, a resident of a motel in Morrisville, who asked to be identified by her first name only to protect her privacy; Kim Anetsberger, executive director of Lamoille Community House, a seasonal homeless shelter; and advocate Addie Lentzner.
In the second half of the Vermont Conversation, we talk with longtime advocate for the homeless Rita Markley. For over two decades, Markley has led the Committee on Temporary Shelter (COTS), one of Vermont’s oldest shelters for people experiencing homelessness. Markley discusses how the homelessness crisis has deepened over the past 30 years as a result of policy choices and the closures of mental health facilities, and how policies must change for homelessness to be eradicated.
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