Dear Gov. Scott,
We have now slept on the unforgiving granite of the State House steps for 11 days. We continue to be concerned that there are over 1,000 people on the street - and more to come - who are not sheltered by General Assistance Motel Program right now, many of whom were not included in your extension.
We last left you after day five. Since then, the beginning of the bitter cold of late fall and winter has begun to set in. We now have slept through two 30-degree nights and two others in the upper 30s.
Josh's lived experience - he has had to live outside through the winter - has helped us to not get sick. However, last night Brenda had a really hard time getting warm. With three warm sleeping bags and several hand warmers thrown in the one that she had zipped around her, she was eventually able to stop shivering.
There were folks on the street last night that never had that privilege. They were alone, without gear, and not the right warm clothes.
What you may not know is that once your gear is wet on the street, there is often no way to dry it. That is why we see abandoned gear all over. Folks lose their tent and sleeping bags with the first real rain or snow. It has rained most of the 11 nights and 12 days that we have been here.
That means many of your constituents who are on the street now were left to potentially freeze and definitely have significant health challenges as a result.
In addition, there are no bathrooms. While we, particularly because of Brenda's political connections, were eventually able to find a bathroom after hours of searching, folks on the street are left without even that small and basic dignity.
You should not have to have run for governor to find a bathroom.
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In no time at all, it will be too cold to survive out here, at least without long-term significant health issues. The average age of death of a woman experiencing homelessness is 42.2 years old, and a man is 55.0.
Josh has been experiencing homelessness for six years. He is 46 years old.
In your last press conference, you said that the G.A. Motel Program is “not what is good for this population.” We are wondering: Does Josh Lisenby deserve to die in nine years or less for the crime of becoming homeless? Is that what is good for this population?
You then went on to say that “permanent housing is what is best.”
But Governor, there is no permanent housing, and people who freeze to death or develop serious health problems never get to see the permanent housing that may or may not finally come online in three to five years.
Your plan does not even cover the 2,000-plus homes needed just for this population, not to mention the extensive need for middle-income and low-income housing for those who are not yet unhoused.
You used this moment to make a political plug to the Legislature for money, not to keep your constituents safe. The Legislature wants to see people housed - it is you who is keeping folks unsafe and without shelter.
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Vermont has the opportunity right now to once again keep our community members from long-term health conditions, freezing to death and from Covid infection. We can do this with the federal reimbursement for the G.A. Motel Program.
While the press has parroted your message that you have extended the program, we all know that you did not include all Vermonters who are on the street. Getting away with it is not the same as keeping your constituents safe.
There are more than 1,000 people on the street right now who don't have a way to stay safe this winter. The state has lost over 200 shelter beds, and congregant shelter is not appropriate while we continue to grapple with Covid.
Right now, Vermont has the highest-percentage increase in the nation of Covid infection and the 9th highest rate of homelessness. As governor, you have an obligation to use all of the tools in your toolbox to keep all of your constituents safe.
In our time here, we have met multiple people without any gear. One of us, who is now in quarantine, has come across more than one person who is currently infected with Covid, was exited from the hospital, not transported to the quarantine hotel, and is on the streets of Montpelier, with low oxygen levels, positive Covid, and no choice but to utilize public spaces. Which then spreads Covid even farther.
We have met more than one person who has been denied G.A. Motel housing by economic services or told that they don't qualify, when they do.
As a result of what we have learned, we are offering a clinic each day that we are here, from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., where we are supporting folks on the street to get access to services they need.
We are gathering contact information of these folks and passing that information along to appropriate legal representation, so that folks who are mistakenly being denied services can access them and get help sorting this out.
We have also learned from service providers that they were given misinformation about who qualifies.
Once again, we are asking you to ensure that those right now on the street and who may become homeless will have access to G.A. Motels beyond the cold weather exception, which is 20 degrees with a 15-degree wind chill last we checked. We assure you that last night was cold enough to die and that was 30 degrees.
Right now, the federal government will 100-percent reimburse the program, and we do have the capacity to house all Vermonters experiencing homelessness. We ask that today you fully reinstate the program until folks are able to be transitioned to long-term housing.
We understand that you do not believe that is what is best, but Josh can tell you firsthand - if you take a meeting with us - exactly what a winter in the cold and on the street is like.
There is nowhere right now for people to go.
Vermonters need you to act now. Their camps, which are their only shelter, are being torn down. It is below freezing at night and wet. Covid is raging across the state. And we have tools to do better.
Let's do better.
We are available to meet any time. We see from the steps that you arrive quite early in the morning; we are awake by about 4:30 a.m. Anytime that you would like to sit down and try to figure out how to best move forward, we can make time for that meeting.
We, too, would love to go back to the warmth, but as long as Vermonters are expected to endure this, so will we.
So, until then, see you on the steps of the State House.