Will Vt. hotels accept state vouchers for homeless?

RUTLAND, Vt. (WCAX) – Hundreds of homeless people are now eligible for 100 days of shelter in Vermont hotels under the state’s newly expanded emergency housing program, but can they get a room?

Under pressure from advocates — and extended help from FEMA — the state announced last week it would open the doors of its emergency hotel program but the state says there are at least six times more people in need of help than before the pandemic and at least some of the hotels that opened their doors last year aren’t willing to do so now.

Video on social media shows the condition of the Holiday Inn in Rutland as the hotel was cleaning up from its participation in the state’s homeless hotel program. Staff at the hotel say rooms sustained serious damage during the months the hotels were taking state vouchers that paid for homeless people to live there.

Renovations are also underway at the Quality Inn in Rutland. The owner of both hotels said they will not be accepting vouchers at this time and are still working on a plan by next month.

“Please don’t house people down here,” said Rutland Town Select Board Chair Mary Ashcroft. In a letter to Vermont DCF Commissioner Sean Brown, she says the board asked the state to reconsider a decision to house homeless people at the Holiday Inn. Ashcroft says the town denied the hotel a liquor license and the hotel had become an increased burden on the police department. “We had to send police officers to respond to the Holiday Inn for things like drug overdoses, suspicious activity, thefts at the next door Green Mountain Plaza.”

The state rolled back the hotel program in July with the intent of moving back to its pre-pandemic system of providing emergency vouchers during the worst winter weather conditions. This led advocates to camp out on the Statehouse steps and pressure the state to continue housing up to 2,500 people without permanent housing at least as long as federal COVID relief funding remains available. “We are dropping Vermonters — the very vulnerable Vermonters,” said Brenda Siegel, the activist who led the protest.

The state twice extended the deadline for ending the program and then last week announced it was opening the emergency voucher program regardless of weather conditions starting November 22nd and extending thru March 1st of next year.

“It has been a wonderful institution. Right now, it is going in so much the wrong direction,” Ashcroft said of the hotel. She says people need housing, especially as cold weather approaches, but that some of those who were housed at the hotel need wrap-around services not provided at the hotel. “They shouldn’t just be warehoused somewhere. They should get the services they need to move into permanent housing for themselves and their families.”

While the new non-weather-specific program begins on Monday, the adverse weather conditions policy went into effect Friday, so people are being housed this weekend. In an email, state officials say they have found rooms for those who need them this weekend.

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