NEWFANE — The current language for the General Assistance Emergency Housing Amendment to H.171 - designed to address the humanitarian crisis caused by the state sponsored unsheltering of already nearly 1,000 people - has serious problems.
This legislation, passed on June 20, lacks evidence-based language, rules, and solutions, and it will create additional hurdles to the population experiencing homelessness, including those that are currently in the program.
The amendment falls significantly short of that goal and of repairing or preventing enough harm to the population. It does provide some protection for those currently in the program, but it also adds additional hurdles that will cause many to fall through the cracks.
We know that more people entered homelessness than exited it in 2022, and we are on track for higher numbers with more evictions as rental assistance ends this year. This bill addresses a small subset of the population and only if they are able to clear the hurdles for their survival.
Now that this bill has passed, those who can jump the hoops will remain sheltered, but those who cannot will be penalized by living outside. Additionally, one who enters homelessness or who was already harmed by the state will be supported with hotel/motel shelter beyond a brief period.
It will still ultimately cause thousands of people to end up on the street, and it does not meet the scale of the crisis with a responsible solution.
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Here are some examples of problems with the current language:
1. It creates additional hurdles that are based on a belief that the people in the program are doing something wrong and, if that were true, which it is not, that the punishment for that should be living outside.
2. It allows an exit from a hotel to condemn someone to living outside without the understanding that those exits are entirely controlled by hotel management and not always related to anything the person is doing wrong. It will foster abuse of vulnerable people and create an unsafe environment.
3. It does absolutely nothing to address keeping people who are medically vulnerable and people with disabilities off the street and safe retroactively or continuously.
Among those exited from the program on June 1 and June 16 exits: A man with a collapsed lung. A person on oxygen. People with cancer. People with severe seizures. People with medical devices that need to be plugged in. An amputee with an open wound. People who just had surgery. The list goes on.
4. It does nothing for members of families with children who become homeless on July 1 or beyond, have 28 days in hotel shelter, and then find themselves on the street. Or for someone on oxygen. Or for someone who is in a power chair. Our state is still condemning them to the street.
5. People are still subject to Kafkaesque survival olympics for the most vulnerable in our state. Pushing people off a cliff three at a time until we have pushed thousands is still a humanitarian crisis, and it is still pushing people off a cliff.
6. Requiring people to take whatever housing is offered to them is not dignified, does nothing to give people agency, and does not meet the supposed legislative intent of this bill. People might have care they need in a certain area. Their children might have specific trauma and need to stay at their current school. Someone might need to stay in a community in order to maintain visits with their children.
This bill should have expanded GA eligibility to age 60 and above, all stages of pregnancy, people who meet Vermont's definition of disability and those who are medically vulnerable.
These bill as written was not evidenced based, did not reflect the needs of this population, and absolutely showed poverty bias, which is how we got here in the first place.