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Follow VPR's statehouse coverage, featuring Pete Hirschfeld and Bob Kinzel in our Statehouse Bureau in Montpelier.

Emergency Housing Program Aims to Help Ease State Budget Woes

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Patti Daniels
/
VPR

When local homeless shelters are full, state government provides vouchers for homeless Vermonters to stay in motels for short term housing.

Last year that program cost the state $4 million dollars. The legislature cut the budget this fiscal year, allocating 1.5 million dollars to the program.

Commissioner of the Department for Children and Families, David Yacavone, says the program is already over budget and is projected to cost the state about 4.2 million dollars this year.

“There’s a couple of choices here. One: to go to a budget adjustment. Go to the legislature and say we need an additional $2.7 million to make this work. Or we can change our policy, making the program more restrictive.”

Yacavone says the Shumlin Administration will ask the legislature for a budget adjustment to cover the costs.

Meanwhile, the Champlain Housing Trust is trying an approach that could save the state as much as a quarter of a million dollars and result in better outcomes. The Trust normally focuses on helping low income people get into permanent housing. But it saw an opportunity to ease the pressure on emergency housing by buying a motel outright.

The Trust purchased an EconoLodge in Shelburne. Now renamed Harbor Place, it will provide emergency housing for people using the state motel voucher program as well as people getting housing help through other agencies, like Howard Center, or homeless patients at Fletcher Allen Health Care who need temporary housing while they get out-patient treatment.

Michael Monte is the chief operating and financial officer of the Trust. He says its approach combines emergency housing with on-site access to services.

“Part of what has happened with folks before is they would wind up in different hotels or motels and they might have a caseworker or two assigned to them from some other program but there was really no way of really coordinating that in a good way.”

So the new motel has counseling and services for dealing with job searches, mental health and domestic abuse issues, and financial and credit help.

Commissioner Yacavone says the cost to the state for this program is about a third less than a typical motel stay in Chittenden County.

The Champlain Housing Trust purchased the motel on October 28th. It is currently providing shelter for about 20 people.

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