by Tom Koch
Advocates (that word should already raise a few red flags!) have their undies in a bunch because the administration and the legislature have wisely declined to continue the massively expensive, pandemic-era program to house the homeless in motels. Those who were so housed loved it, because they had a roof over their heads, in many cases a better roof than they had had for many years—all in the name of trying to prevent the spread of COVID. Motel owners loved it, despite the frequent calls to law enforcement, because the motel owners could set their own prices—a real bonanza, even considering the expense of necessary cleaning and repairs now that their residents will be departing. But that was all done with “free” federal money, and the administration and responsible legislators agree that the state cannot afford to continue this mess.
But advocates (there’s that word again) point out that Vermont has a proportionately higher rate of homelessness than virtually any other state. The question is: Why? The answer is simple: “If you build it, they will come!” Simply providing housing—or shelter—for the homeless is a losing proposition and does not solve the problem of homelessness! So, what will?
Any responsible homeless program needs to be viewed as temporary, transitional, and individualized. Every homeless person who takes advantage of free shelter or housing should be offered the opportunity to engage in counseling, with the goal being to help that person overcome the person’s barrier (or barriers) to obtaining permanent housing.
Is a family fleeing an abusive spouse? Perhaps some legal help is appropriate.
Is the person unemployed, or perhaps currently unemployable? Helping that person get a job, or getting cleaned up, or getting some on-the-job training might help.
Are there mental issues involved? While the deficiencies in Vermont’s mental health system is another topic, there are forms of help available.
The objective is to assist those who are homeless to become self-sufficient. “A hand up, not a hand out,” as the saying goes. It is certainly more difficult and labor intensive than simply handing someone a key to a motel room, but it offers the possibility of a genuine solution to the problem of homelessness.
The current program is set to be terminated in two steps, first on June 1, and then on July 1. For months, Governor Scott and key legislators have signaled that the program needs to be terminated, because it cannot be sustained without the now-discontinued federal funding. But advocates and program participants are acting as if this is all a big surprise and that it has come upon them without warning. They have simply refused to accept reality, hoping for some eleventh hour miracle.
Such a partial miracle has, in fact, come to pass in the misguided 15-day “reprieve” offered by two local motels, allowing program participants some additional time to find new housing. What we will, in fact, see two weeks from now is people still living on these motels, believing that their miracle will happen and that they will be able to stay put indefinitely. Sometimes, deadlines just need to be deadlines, and extending them does not help.
Equally improvident is the suggestion made by the Barre City Manager that the city offer to rent the BOR building to the state to house the homeless, to the tune of $29,025.00 per day for 90 days. That figure is an estimate that all 387 people currently housed in motels around Washington County can be accommodated in the BOR at the rate of $75.00 per person per day. While that “rental income” might prove to be a bonanza to the city, one must question the wisdom of concentrating all of Washington County’s homeless in one facility that is currently open space, offering no privacy. Where are Montpelier and Waterbury and other communities in this discussion? The 90-day rental period suggests that 387 people will all be looking for new housing just as the weather begins to turn colder. But with the demonstrated proclivity of people to ignore deadlines to move out, one wonders whether judicial evictions proceedings will be required, and these proceedings take time! What will the condition of the BOR be when it comes time to make ice so that Barre’s hockey and other skating programs can proceed?
Vermonters are compassionate people, and we feel for those who are going through hard times, and those who are homeless evoke some of the most sympathetic feelings. Our sympathies, however, need to be limited by a timeless principle: We help those who are willing to help themselves, including those who are willing but legitimately unable.
And here’s the bottom line: Any person who refuses counseling or help with that person’s problems should be considered for disqualification for state-supported homeless shelter. The hard fact is that some people have simply chosen a homeless lifestyle, and while that’s not a choice we would make, it’s not the state’s function to impose our wiser choices upon those who seem to us to be making poorer choices.
We need to remember that which is too often forgotten—that just throwing money at a problem has never solved the problem it was intended to solve and has often created new and unforeseen problems.
It was reported today that the homes of some legislators were spray painted last night. The people who did this have not been identified, nor have the names of the victimized legislators.
Although identifying the victims might help to identify the perpetrators, I don’t think it really matters which legislators were victimized. Whether some right-wing fanatic decided to attack liberal legislators or some left-wing nut case decided to attack conservative legislators, this type of action has no legitimate place in American politics. It is more reminiscent of fascist activities of the past century, and it cannot be tolerated! Political leaders of all stripes need to join in one voice to condemn such actions, and every effort must be made by law enforcement authorities to apprehend the person or persons responsible for this outrage and prosecute them to the fullest extent permitted by law.
Scribblings” originated as a report on legislative affairs while the writer was a member of the Vermont House of Representatives from Barre Town. Since then, it has been written less frequently and with less focus on the legislature and more of whatever happens to move the writer. If you are not on the distribution list and wish to be added, simply send your name, town of residence, and email address to TomKochVT@gmail.com. If you are currently on the distribution list and wish to be removed, make that request at the same address—no offense taken.