Help with housing should come with strings attached
by Pam Baker
In her May 11 letter to the editor of VDC about the “crisis” of the homeless, Brenda Siegel of Newfane wrote: “In the past couple of months, nearly 200 people utilizing the program have written to their legislators as well as Senate Protem and Speaker of the House, telling their personal stories and pleading with them to treat their lives with the same value that they give their own values. I can’t imagine any other constituency who would be ignored in such an overt and overwhelming way.”
I can. A huge constituency has been ignored in just such an “overt and overwhelming way: the thousands of voters who contacted their representatives about the “Affordable Heat Act,” to no avail. Their representatives still voted to pass the measure.
Ms. Siegel then states that “people in power have a responsibility to treat the lives of fellow human beings with dignity.” Where does it state that in the Vermont Constitution?
She also claims that “10-30% of people experiencing unsheltered homeless will die as a result.” First, someone’s personal crisis is not the State’s responsibility. The original plan was to house people to prevent the spread of the “pandemic.” The program has to end sometime.
I agree that a responsible transition should have been put in place. So should an eligibility requirement….. like, proof that your last address was one in Vermont. A utility bill, anything with a legal address. Not a PO Box. That’s the requirement to get a driver’s license or even a checking account. So why should it be any different to qualify for public assistance? According to the VSHA pre-application, there is no requirement for proof of Vermont residence. Shouldn’t that be a priority?
Second, where does that statistic about people dying from experiencing unsheltered homelessness come from specifically? I doubt its veracity. Cite your source. How did they determine that lacking shelter will result in their death? I find that a suspicious statistic at best and a gross misrepresentation at worst. Just plain logic makes that statistic incoherent.
She then goes on to state that Vermont has the “second highest rate of homelessness in the country”. Technically that is correct but according to the website “statista.com“, the District of Columbia is the highest, followed by California and then Vermont. Since the District isn’t a state, Ms. Seigel’s statement is technically factual.
Do you wonder why we have the “second highest” rate per capita of homelessness in the country? Truly? I will tell you why I believe this is true is because quite a few MOVED here because of housing. They are not Vermont residents.
I know personally of a woman whose “boyfriend” moved her and her 3 small children here from CT in 2021. Another single man lives in New Hampshire but wanted to spend the winter not couch surfing and not in a tent. He plans to return to Keene once the weather improves. Another couple literally moved here from the mid-Atlantic states because of the services. That is just a few of the people of whom I am personally aware. There are more that space and privacy don’t me allow me to cite.
Ms. Seigel also claims our state government was perpetrating cruelty among “those who struggle the most with poverty.”
Struggle with poverty? Many of the residents that I had been in contact with over the last 3 years had new smart phones -some had iPhones. Who paid for that?
Many had new tattoo’s. Who paid for that?
Many were using illicit drugs. Who paid for that?
Where is all this money coming from? Wouldn’t a prudent person be saving their money for deposits, transportation, etc.?
Finally, Ms Seigel claims these families will have no place to go and “they will be exited (sic) to our downtowns, to our communities.” Where do you think they were before the “pandemic”? Some didn’t even live here in Vermont. Others were downtown in our communities panhandling and sleeping in the woods behind businesses or in empty buildings.
I agree with Ms. Seigel that it feels very terrible to take something away from people. That some folks have had a rough time of life. But it is not our responsibility to pay for their housing for the remainder of their lives. I agree a more robust exit program should have been put into place.
When you give something to people and require no payback of any sort, you dehumanize them. You create an imbalanced relationship. People must have a measure of responsibility and investment in their own lives. A requirement for housing should have come “with strings attached”. This would have provided a measure of dignity and a graduated approach to independence. Instead, a knee jerk reaction to throw money at the problem just pushed the problem down the road. Here’s an idea – how about we required three hours of supervised work for every night paid for by the State of Vermont? Everything from maintaining the property they were living in to working with meals on wheels.
When you take away people’s ability to be productive and provide for themselves, you enslave them in a backwards type of manner. You mustn’t just give things to people. You must require inputs from them. Time and labor.
Of course, there are many other factors in their homelessness… but actual housing is not the biggest priority. They lived someplace before they became homeless. How did they end up homeless? Solve that problem and the homeless part will resolve itself in all likelihood.
This is a multifaceted and complicated social problem. But people have to want to not be on the “dole” and that ship sailed a long time ago. There is now a whole subculture of folks that can’t or don’t want to be responsible for themselves. I have run in to this firsthand, many, many times in the last 10 years, and it has gotten much worse these last three years.