Robbery, heroin bust at Rutland ‘homeless hotel’ highlights pandemic housing problems, transition
by Guy Page
Just before 3 AM on Tuesday, June 29, the Vermont State Police were notified of an assault and robbery that had taken place earlier at the Holiday Inn in Rutland.
Police say Jesse Terry, 54, and Travis Bunnell, 31, had assaulted and robbed Christopher Sumner, 39. It was also found that Bunnell had an outstanding warrant for his arrest. Bunnell was later located at the Holiday Inn and taken into custody. Bunnell was found to be in possession of suspected heroin during his arrest. Terry was also located at the Holiday Inn and taken into custody.
Both men were transported to the Rutland Barracks for processing and later transported to the Southern State Correctional Facility in Springfield where they were held without bail.
Police reports of robbery and drug possession have been commonplace since last year, when the State of Vermont converted hotels and motels unused due to pandemic restrictions into much-needed housing for the homeless. Traditional shelters – already in overflow – are generally “dormitory” style housing. Under social distancing guidelines, they couldn’t begin to handle the demand for temporary shelter.
The Holiday Inn is one of the ‘homeless hotels’ in which the State has housed up to 300 families a night during the pandemic, using federal FEMA funds which will expire tomorrow. The total pricetag was over $70 million and, if continued through this year, would have reached an annual cost of over $100 million, Smith said. Also, hotel and motel owners want their facilities back to serve what many hope will be a strong summer tourism season.
The transitional program launched by the State will pay individuals leaving the hotels $2500 and provide outdoor equipment, free smartphones with several months of paid service, and other assistance to help them find new housing, treatment, and employment. The total transitional funding package will be as much as $8000 per person, Agency of Human Services Secretary Mike Smith told reporters yesterday.
Not all ‘homeless hotel’ residents will be asked to leave. Those with disabilities or other extenuating circumstances will continue to have their rent covered for an indefinite period. However, the ‘no-questions-asked’ policy of housing virtually anyone who applies, provided there is room somewhere, ends tomorrow. Some residents are expected to return to family settings that were unhealthy, unsafe or more difficult to maintain during the State of Emergency.
Gov. Phil Scott has been clear the state’s longterm plan is to build more low-income housing to shelter the homeless. A large chunk of the $250 million allocated for housing in this budget will go towards new housing. When asked last week by Vermont Daily if increasing the supply of new low-income housing will increase demand by attracting housing-needy people from other states, Scott replied “I hope so.” The Vermont economy needs working people to move here, he said.
Despite the state’s unprecedented funding of its homeless population, both before and after tomorrow’s deadline, the Scott administration has been criticized for its supposedly inhumane care of the state’s neediest people. Many questions at yesterday’s press conference reflected these concerns. Also, this week Vermont Legal Aid filed suit to continue the current level of housing. When asked about the suit, Smith said his agency will fight the challenge in court and expressed confidence in victory.
Meanwhile, the City of Montpelier is taking the proactive and (to some) controversial step of allowing homeless encampments, provided they don’t encroach on “sensitive” areas such as homes, businesses, schools, and other public places. City staff will allow the encampments and offer access to social services, including mental health and recovery.
Categories: State Government