Homeless housing advocate Brenda Siegel (in window seat at left) listens as the budget conference committee decides Wednesday to end the homeless hotel program. Page photo
By Guy Page
The state’s ‘homeless hotel’ emergency housing funding will end as planned on July 1, the conference committee selected to resolve House and Senate budget differences decided Wednesday afternoon.
The decision was one of dozens that have been made or will need to be made by the committee led by Sen. Appropriations Chair Jane Kitchel and House Appropriations Chair Diane Lanpher. Their job is to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the $8 billion-plus 2023-24 budget in a way addresses their members’ spending priorities, hopefully without incurring a veto by Gov. Phil Scott.
House conference committee member Theresa Wood, chair of Human Services, asked the committee to look at the big picture of housing the needy. “One of the things that I think is really important for us to keep in mind is that the needs of people are diverse,” Wood said. “And so our approach needs to be diverse. There’s not going to be a single silver bullet that solves this problem.”
The committee’s housing spending plan is certainly diverse. $10 million for the Department of Children and Families’ Housing Opportunity Program. $26.4 million for winter emergency housing. $16.7 million to maintain and expand shelters. $.8 million for recovery housing, a half million for youth independent living stipends, $6.4 million for transitional housing from prison, $17 million for more nursing home funding – and more.
But the state’s failure to extend homeless emergency housing left housing advocate Brenda Siegel “disgusted.” Shaking her head quietly as Wood explained the committee’s spending priorities, she unloaded on them in the hallway afterwards.
“It’s an abject failure of our state government to protect the most vulnerable people,” Siegel said. “It will leave 1800 households, 2800 individuals, including 500 to 600 children to potentially end up on the street. And of that, according to data, 10% to 30% of those people will die. So that’s 300 to 700 of those people.
“So this is an abject failure of our state government, in the worst way, to prevent a humanitarian crisis and the worst thing I have ever seen this legislature do.”
What should they have done?, Siegel was asked. “They should have put the money where it’s needed. I’ve worked with the hotel owners to renegotiate the price. They should have put the money in.”
How much would that be?, Siegel was asked. “It would be a total of $50 million, so $24 million more than they had in the $8.5 billion budget to protect the people who have the least among us. That is not too much to ask to protect people that have the least. This is who we have decided to be, and it is disgusting.”
The headline for this news story says the door is closed, but it hasn’t been locked and barred. Rep. Mari Cordes (D-Lincoln) and other progressive/Democrat lawmakers are working on supporting Gov. Scott’s budget veto (if it happens) unless the homeless hotel money is added back into the budget.
Homeless hotel residents without special needs and conditions must vacate by June 1. All residents must vacate by July 1.
Categories: State Government