For another 1072, residency extended for 1-3 months
By Guy Page
Yesterday, June 1, an event WCAX-TV called ‘check out’ took place in the lives of about 700 people heretofore receiving free housing under the pandemic-era ‘homeless hotel’ program.
Almost all of the unfortunate 700 Club are people without disabilities or children, the two main eligibility categories allowing HH residents to stay until July 1 – and beyond. As seen in the accompanying graph, the state’s general assistance program will extend benefits another 28 days past July 1 for 482 people, and another 78 days past July 1 for 590 people.
I spent most of yesterday afternoon and evening at one of Vermont’s homeless hotels, wanting to know ‘up close and personal’ what was happening. After returning home late last night, I watched WCAX’s excellent coverage of the wrenching departure day. For anyone wishing to understand what happened across Vermont yesterday with both compassion and heard-headed understanding, I strongly recommend viewing “Motel checkouts underway.”
Reporter Ike Ben-David recounted, from a Chittenden County homeless hotel, an almost identical situation from the motel I was watching, many miles away. Refugees from Third World countries not knowing where they would land next. People clearly plagued by choices that made them homeless. People with good jobs who can’t find a home, because of the shortage caused by (for starters) 50 years of housing-inhibiting legislation. Some people with both of those problems.
And amidst it all, young children – playing in the sunshine outside, wearing big, innocent, care-free smiles, giving and receiving hugs from the trusted adults in a (to me) surprisingly tight-knit community of neighbors.
From some of the June 1 ‘checkouts’ – notably young men – there was defiance, which got them a prompt escort away by the local police. For others, departure was orderly and planned. From others with simply no enclosed place to go, there were tears and fears. Shelters? Full. Apartments? Nope. At this motel, anyway, the owners weren’t offering weekly and monthly cash-pay deals, even if the rooms were clean enough to rent.
In the WCAX coverage, the cleaning lady complains about the filth and destruction left by some residents. That was horrifyingly true from what I saw and heard. The lady in charge of cleaning the units from the newly evicted said they would take days to clean, she wouldn’t touch them now even double-gloved, and must first have some truly hazardous materials to be removed.
One local hotel had a couple of vacant rooms for $239/night – scarcely a longterm option for anyone not earning six figures.
“The safest place to stay is probably underneath that bridge over there,” one of the more seasoned residents said.
All three branches of government were deeply involved in Checkout Day. A Vermont judge turned aside a request for a preliminary injunction, saying the decision to end the HH program is up to the Legislature. Some lawmakers in their capacity as constituent advocates helped the evicted navigate state services. And state housing and economic services leaders and line staff were on the phones all day trying to help everyone affected.
I left around 8 pm. The sun was still shining. I don’t know how many, or if any, people who slept indoors Wednesday, May 31 ended up sleeping under that bridge or elsewhere outdoors. I do know that on Checkout, as with any other long-ignored day of reckoning, the fear and heartbreak were all too real.