Commentary: 15-year-old urges VT to become first to end homelessness

by Grace Marroquin

Today lightning and thunder shook my hometown of South Burlington for close to a half hour while rain poured down like a giant waterfall with a visibility of what seemed like zero. When the light flickered on and off the storm even felt a little thrilling.

Most of us probably know what this is like and find the few moments of uncertainty a rainstorm holds thrilling and calming all in one. But most of us go through them from the inside out. From our place of privilege in the security of four warm walls and a dry roof over our heads. Not everyone has this opportunity. What would I have done if I didn’t have a home to shelter under? What if I couldn’t find a place to go? What would I do with wet shoes or clothes?

Homelessness is a word that we hear from time to time, but do most of us truly understand the meaning of that word? To live without four walls and a roof above our head, to not know where your next meal will come from, to not know where you’re going to sleep tonight; these are things most of us will never truly understand. But for some these thoughts go through their mind every single day. For a short period of time that was all changed.

When COVID-19 began and everyone was forced to stay at home, motels and hotels closed down, opening up space that would become the basis for the motel program, a program that housed homeless people throughout the pandemic. Now that mandates are starting to lighten up along with traveling restrictions Governor Scott shut down the motel program July 1 despite urging from many different groups to continue the program.

Throughout the Coronavirus the program housed 2,700 adults and children. 700 of them were forced to move out on July 1, 2021 The other 2,000 got an extra 2 and a half months due to having children or disabilities, but that time is closing in quickly and one month is almost up. Each person forced out of housing was given a $2,500 check, but how long will it last?

Theoretically, many could use it to make a down payment on more permanent housing. There’s only one problem: there is no housing available. The pandemic has led to many things, mainly a decreased supply of housing due to labour shortages, material shortages, and a shortage of already existing housing on the market. Even if these people had the money for down payments on housing, there is nowhere for them to go.

However, another good thing to come out of the pandemic was the moratorium on evictions. Many households have experienced low income and difficulty finding work throughout the pandemic. The CDC moratorium has kept many people in housing instead of forcing people out onto the streets. Sadly, this ban on eviction ended June 15, 2021. As soon as it did, many Vermonters were forced out of their homes unless they could qualify for the CDC moratorium, but that will end July 31, 2021.

The pandemic hit everyone hard, but most affected were marginalized and low income people. Is it fair that these people are being kicked out of their homes for something far beyond anyone’s control?

Not only has it been hard for some to find and keep shelter lately, but finding food has been too. Maximum SNAP benefits and the Vermont Everyone Eats program have been helpful, but Maximum SNAP benefits can end as soon as the national public health emergency does, or if the health emergency doesn’t end, December 31, 2021. The Vermont Everyone Eats program, which provides Vermonters with healthy meals, will end this September 30, 2021 and will be slowing down production up to that date. If we want people to have access to good and healthy food, these programs need to continue.

No one deserves to be living on the streets or unsure of where their next meal will come from. Shelter and food are both basic human needs and rudimentary human rights. Vermont has often been a leader for the rest of the United States. We were the first to abolish slavery before we were even part of the United States, the first to legalize same sex marriage, and we had the lowest COVID rates of infection in the continental United States.

Let us become the first to eradicate homelessness.

Call your Legislators and urge them to call on Governor Scott to extend the motel program, the moratorium on evictions, and all food resource programs. We cannot work on a permanent solution until this temporary one is in place. All of the problems that we have in our world right now are intertwined. As we start to undo one knot, we open up pathways to undoing the others. If we continue these temporary solutions, eventually we will find our way to a more permanent one that will lead to a better Vermont and a better world.

The author is a 15-year-old student at Rice Memorial High School in South Burlington. She became an activist to end homelessness while attending the Governor’s Institute of Vermont on Global Issues and Youth Activism.

Categories: Commentary

6 replies »

  1. Grace, the Catch 22 is, of course, that to give a man a fish, feeds him for a day. To teach a man to fish, feeds him for a lifetime.

    It’s easy to give people fish, especially when the fish are caught by others. Teaching people to fish is another story, especially when frequent gifts are a disincentive to learning.

    And yes, adult life is a frightening prospect for beginners. But everyone is well served to be ‘unsure of where their next meal will come from’ at some point in their lives. I was unsure when I was not too much older than you. But I learned. And you will too. I suggest you learn first how to fish yourself, and then teach others to do so, before telling anyone else to give their fish away.

    Thomas Sowell, renowned economist, has some favorite quotes that come to mind. Here are three of them.

    “From my earliest childhood I have been toiling and wearing my heart out for other people, who took all I could do and suffer for them as no more than their just dues.”
    —John Randolph

    “There are many who find a good alibi far more attractive than an achievement. For an achievement does not settle anything permanently. We still have to prove our worth anew each day: we have to prove that we are as good today as we were yesterday. But when we have a valid alibi for not achieving anything we are fixed, so to speak, for life.”
    —Eric Hoffer

    “Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. They don’t mean to do harm– but the harm does not interest them. Or they do not see it, or they justify it because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves.”
    —T. S. Eliot

    Here are more of Sowell’s favorites.

  2. In order to end homelessness – one must permanently end mental health illnesses as well as alcohol & drug addictions.

    I wish you success, genuinely, but I will not be betting on it.

  3. When this 15 year-old starts paying real taxes, then he can have some credibility to propose plans for expensive social programs.

    • Agreed. The problem is that these kids & do-gooders are NEVER taught the reality of this matter in that over 90% of all homelessness are either caused directly or indirectly by mental illnesses and/or addictions to drugs/alcohol.

      Instead they are taught that these are average, every day folks who are just down on their luck.

      The police, the DOJ, etc. have all provided documentation to show that this is not the case, but accepting that means having to accept some degree of personal responsibility or accountability for one’s own predicaments sometimes in life —— something most leftists are not capable of doing.

  4. There has been a community effort in Hartford to address their homeless population concerns. It has included two winters of building units to help the homeless have safe, warm winter accommodations. It has included planning efforts to provide a safe encampment site, discussions with the community, select board and planning commission.

    Recently there has been a move to disband the group behind these efforts to treat the homeless humanely. Grace, perhaps you’d like to be part of the next selectboard meeting on Tuesday in Hartford.

    The meeting will also be available on Zoom at 6 pm – Please mute your microphone. – click “live now”.
    If you’re calling in from phone dial:
    (415) 762-9988 Type in the Room ID: 549-799-933 followed by #

    Here is a link depicting some of the microdwelling efforts in Hartford.

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