BRATTLEBORO—The new fiscal year brings with it state budget cuts that reduce access to emergency housing for Vermonters on the verge of homelessness.
In an attempt to fill the gap, Brattleboro’s Continuum of Care (BCC), a group of 13 local nonprofits, has begun a drive to collect tents and sleeping bags.
Local housing agencies anticipate an increased need for these survival tools when the budget cuts take effect July 15.
The state emergency housing program provides limited motel vouchers for elderly and disabled homeless individuals and homeless families with young children.
The emergency housing program is often the last resort for vulnerable families before homelessness, and Brattleboro ranks third in number of motel vouchers statewide.
Currently, 11 households in Brattleboro and 23 in Bennington hold hotel vouchers.
In 2010, 150 families used the program in the Brattleboro area. Expenditures have increased every year. Last year, 43 percent of the total expenditures went to Burlington and 9 percent to Brattleboro.
The Brattleboro Area Drop-in Center reports it has already received multiple calls requesting tents and sleeping bags.
According to a press release from the BCC, budget cuts by the Vermont Legislature will reduce services for people seeking emergency temporary housing in Vermont.
The Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2014 authorizes the Economic Services Division (ESD) of the Department for Children and Families up to $1.5 million for emergency housing.
This is $2.5 million less than fiscal year 2013.
Morningside Shelter Executive Director Josh Davis said BCC learned of the cuts last week. But still unknown, he said, are the details of how the cuts will ultimately affect emergency housing assistance, how many people will lose their emergency housing vouchers, or how the length of stay will change.
Davis said that, at least at this early stage, the cuts mean the program’s requirements have become more stringent.
People previously in the program might become ineligible. People who do qualify will have a reduced length of stay in temporary housing starting July 1.
Meanwhile, Morningside operates at capacity and with a “year-round” wait list with about 30 to 50 households on the list.
The Winter Overflow Shelter will not reopen until colder weather returns later this year.
Davis said BCC is not trying to encourage “tent cities” and illegal camping, but rather to steer people instead to area campgrounds.
Regardless of what changes occur on July 15, Davis doubts Morningside will have empty beds.
As of July 1, people with emergency motel vouchers must check in with the state.
The Brattleboro Continuum of Care group is comprised of representatives from Morningside Shelter, the Brattleboro Area Drop-in Center, Southeastern Vermont Community Action (SEVCA), Youth Services, Children’s Integrative Services, the Women’s Freedom Center, Brattleboro Housing Authority, Windham and Windsor Housing Trust, the Veterans Administration (VA), Brattleboro Area Affordable Housing, Health Care and Rehabilitation Services (HCRS), and Vermont’s Agency of Human Services.
The group meets monthly to collaborate on systemic responses to homelessness in the Brattleboro area.