“This means that lives will be saved this year. That can not be understated.” said Siegel. “There are some areas of serious concern and we will be rolling out more details about those concerns over the coming week.”
When we announced that we would be staying on the State House steps, on October 14th, the barrier to utilizing the GA Motel program was so high that many people, even those who qualified, could not get in. As a result we set our bar high on demands and said from the start that we would not compromise on people’s lives. On November 10th, we walked off the State House Steps exactly twenty-eight days after we first announced that we would stay.
We have shown that together Vermonters do have a voice. We can make the change we want to see. Thank you to all who provided support and voice in helping to make sure your community members and neighbors are safe this winter and hopefully beyond.
We are proud of the work that we accomplished so far with impacted voices and needs at the forefront. Together we put a bright spotlight on this issue. The nearly daily press and consistent chronicle of this experience highlighted this issue in a way that rarely happens. The humanization and watching so many Vermonters, so many of the Governor’s constituents, speaking out was powerful. We are proud to have started a daily clinic to support folks in getting services and help them access legal services if their rights were being violated. That clinic will continue going forward. Anyone with any need for support accessing services can call between 3 and 5 each day at 802 490 4931. Through that clinic we helped several Vermonters access GA Motels and other services that they qualified for, this work will continue.
We met with Commissioner Brown and were invited to the GA Working Group and will be participating in that group going forward. We met with the Speaker and Pro tem as well as the Lieutenant Governor who all came out in support of the full expansion of the program following our meetings. We continue to be disappointed that the Governor himself is not willing to meet with us and Lived Experience Experts.
The administration did meet our demand to end it’s practice of asking Vermonters to trade their shelter for money. In addition, another nearly 600 Vermonters were prevented from being exited in October.
And now we have succeeded in the big ask. As of November 22nd any Vermonter experiencing houselessness or homelessness will have access to the GA Motel program and will be safer from freezing to death, COVID, and long term health impacts.
While this is not all of our demands, pivotal change has been made.
We remain concerned about several rules and areas of uncertainty. We have outlined our three top concerns below:
1. People are cold today and the program should begin immediately and end with transitioning folks to long term housing. It is not practical policy to end the program March 1st when the federal funds are there and the legislature allocated significant funds to address this. Folks could easily stay until transitioned into long term housing.
2. Several of the rules create harsh and unusually cruel punishments that could leave a person or family to freeze to death or be caused significant harm and destabilization and must be addressed. Rules in general should not be designed in a punitive manner, but rather trauma informed and with an effort to generate the best outcomes for the individual. There are several rules that we believe must be overhauled to meet these guidelines.
3. We have concerns about the income guidelines as we have met several middle income Vermonters now living in their cars but can’t afford to live in motels. We believe that being unhoused should be the bar.
Two of our groups demands have not yet been met and we are actively working to address them:
1. We must eliminate the 84 day rule.
2. The administration must immediately give notice to the public and the impacted communities about their options and their rights as well as a clear guide to the rules that reads much like the landlord tenant handbook. Impacted communities must also know where to go if their rights are being violated. The Governor and legislature as well must come up with a cohesive and coherent plan that will ensure folks are transitioned to long term housing and not exited to the street.
Going forward we will continue the work that we have begun on the steps of the State House by keeping our clinic and hotline open for folks. We also are beginning to travel around the state and assess needs. We have already set up meetings with legislative leaders in order to begin to work on a plan to end homelessness. A plan that our small advocacy group has been working on all along and will present to the public very soon, now that legislators, service providers and advocates have been afforded space from trying to just keep folks from dying. A position that none of us should have been in since we had the resources to do better all along.
“We will no longer be sleeping on the statehouse steps but we will NOT be leaving the State House completely,” Lisenby said. “There is still a lot of work, many hard conversations and much effort needed to help address Vermont’s ongoing housing crisis. We have let this go unchecked for decades and now we are reaping what we sowed.”
It is neither humane nor fiscally responsible to not solve this problem. We simply must.
Finally, we are prepared to come back to the State House steps, if these walls go back up. We are prepared to keep speaking out along side folks experiencing homelessness and UNTIL we transition folks into long term housing. We have no choice but to do just that.
If we end up again where folks are on the street, we will see you on the State House steps.
Brenda Siegel, Policy Advocate & Former Candidate For Governor
Josh Lisenby, Policy Advocate, Currently Experiencing Homelessness
Addie Lentzner, Youth Advocate