New SOE to help the homeless will be “a unifying force,” Krowinski says
By Guy Page
Vermont Speaker of the House Jill Krowinski (D-Burlington) is calling upon Governor Phil Scott to declare a State of Emergency to address the end of the pandemic-era homeless hotel and motel program and support a safe transition for current residents.
Before adjourning earlier this month, House and Senate leaders – with the support of Krowinski and Senate Pro Tem Phil Baruth (D-Chittenden) – agreed the pandemic-era funding needed to end for the ‘homeless hotel’ program now serving 2700 people.
But that was before 17 Progressive and liberal Democrats refused to vote for the budget, which passed with just 90 votes – 10 less than the 100 votes needed to override a budget veto.
And it was before Gov. Scott vetoed the $8.5 billion 2023-24 state budget, creating a possible ‘nightmare scenario’ of Progressives joining Republicans to sustain a veto during the scheduled June 20-22 special session of the Legislature.
Suddenly both Scott and the Democratic leaders of the Legislature were fighting to be seen by the ‘Gang of 17’ as champions of beneficiaries of a program they were responsible for defunding.
For his part, Gov. Scott announced at a press conference Wednesday a list of measures aimed at helping the former homeless hotel residents find new homes. Temporary shelters will become full-time, local barriers to homeless will be overcome.
Scott and his aides insisted the current program is no panacea. It isolates residents from supports they need to address the root causes of homelessness – including mental illness, substance abuse, domestic violence, the housing shortage, and the lack of workforce training. In short, the homeless hotel program is too expensive to continue and it’s not good long-term for the beneficiaries, anyway.
The budget veto brought the end of the emergency housing program “to the forefront of public attention,” Krowinski said in a statement Friday.
Sen. Phil Baruth also bemoaned the budget’s failure to give municipalities the funding and tools they need to address the expected transition of ‘homeless hotel’ residents to new homes, including for some the streets of Vermont.
And he laid the blame at the feet of the Scott administration.
“Our approach to the General Assistance program transition has been based on the notion that the Administration could be counted on to act swiftly, and in concert with the Legislature, as expanded eligibility wound down. Clearly, that trust was misplaced,” Baruth said.
But he stopped short of calling for a renewed State of Emergency, under which all Vermonters lived during the pandemic era.
Krowinski, on the other hand, was explicit in urging Scott to renew the State of Emergency.
“The conditions surrounding homelessness in Vermont may constitute an ‘all-hazards event’ under 20 V.S.A. § 9, requiring urgent action and additional resources,” Krowinski said.
“An ‘all-hazards event’ encompasses various circumstances, including natural disasters, health emergencies, civil unrest, and other incidents that threaten public safety. While Vermont’s significant per-capita homeless population, coupled with the imminent transition from the expanded hotel/motel emergency housing program, could be seen as a health-related emergency, only the Governor can determine whether this crisis meets the criteria of an all-hazards event,” Krowinski said.
“Homelessness is not an isolated problem affecting a few individuals; it is an issue that impacts all our communities. I am urging Governor Scott to declare a State of Emergency to address the transition of those in motels and avoid mass homelessness in Vermont.”
Scott and his leading officials dispute the transition will lead to ‘mass homelessness.’ Hundreds have already indicated they have alternative plans, they said Wednesday. There’s no specific headcount of how many will remain homeless, but some administration officials estimate the number is closer to 1,000.
Krowinski, however, predicts there will be “families on the streets” amid “potential mass unsheltering.” And she called a new State of Emergency “a unifying force.”
“This declaration is appropriate for the gravity of the situation and would enable the mobilization of all available governmental and community-driven resources to confront this crisis head-on,” she said Friday. “The Governor stated that he does not know whether there will be families on the streets. This uncertainty highlights the need to use all the tools available to us to ensure that this does not happen. Our duty is to seek all viable solutions and ensure they are available to avoid a potential mass unsheltering throughout our state.
“The State of Emergency declaration will serve as a unifying force, bringing together government agencies, nonprofit organizations, businesses, and Vermonters from all walks of life — just like we did during Hurricane Irene and the global pandemic. By coordinating our efforts, sharing expertise, and pooling resources, we can effectively address the immediate needs of those experiencing homelessness.
“It is crucial to recognize the tireless dedication and commitment of the staff at emergency shelters and housing service organizations across Vermont. They are on the frontlines, working to provide support, safety, and assistance to those in need. In this critical time, they need additional support and we need all hands on deck. The declaration of a State of Emergency would mobilize resources and enable us to further support these dedicated individuals who play an indispensable role in addressing the challenges of homelessness. This could include the mobilization of the Vermont National Guard and the Vermont Medical Reserve Corps.
“Moreover, this declaration will empower us to implement targeted and comprehensive measures to address the root causes of homelessness. Through a coordinated and multifaceted approach, we can break the cycle of homelessness and provide a pathway to stability for those in need. By channeling our shared interests in avoiding a statewide unsheltering event, we can create a Vermont where no individual or family is left behind, and everyone has a safe and secure place to call home,” Krowinski said.
Will the governor enact another State of Emergency? When asked by Vermont Daily Chronicle today, his press spokesperson didn’t take it off the table.
“Any response to Speaker’s call for a State of Emergency due to the budget veto?,” VDC asked Press Secretary Jason Maulucci.
“As the Governor and Administration officials discussed last week, we are taking action to prepare for the transition that the Administration, Speaker and Senate Pro Tem have all agreed must take place,” Maulucci said. “As he also made clear, the Governor will take all steps and use any tools he feels are appropriate to ensure the best outcomes for the state.”