Vermont #2 in nation in rate of homelessness – what can be done?

man in blue denim jeans sitting beside white short coat dog

by Guy Page

On at least one important public policy subject, John Walters ( and I agree:

Vermont has too many homeless people. 

“Here’s something I didn’t know about our Brave Little State: Vermont has the second highest rate of homelessness in the country,” Walters writes in his February 7 essay. “Only California is worse.”

Walters references data in a February 3 The Guardian profile of a Vermont teen. Furthermore, from 2007 – 2022 Vermont saw the highest rate of homeless increase in the nation. Higher than California. Higher than New York State.

The left-leaning Walters – one of Vermont news media’s most skillful writers – and I agree on the deplorable what. But we disagree on the why.

Walters: “There was one significant piece of good news in the HUD report, but that news may get quite a bit worse in the very near future. The good news is that we do an extremely good job of getting homeless Vermonters into shelter of some kind or another. In fact, we provide more shelter than any other state.”

Me: Yep, we do indeed “provide more shelter than any other state.” And that’s one reason why we have so many homeless. 

Not the only reason, of course. We also have the oldest housing stock in the nation. A generation of legislatures that have strangled new home construction (except grudgingly and at great expense in urban cores) and made renovation less and less affordable. “Zombie” homes sitting vacant ever since the death of their Greatest Generation reverse-mortgage holding owners – victims of the bottomless bureaucratic pit called Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Growing numbers of hard-to-employ felons and drug addicts. A hot, speculative housing market that encourages vacant second-homes. 

All true. And here’s yet another cruel New Normal about Vermont’s homeless: 

Many are employed. The old line ‘get a job’ doesn’t cut it, anymore. Many, many homeless Vermonters work one or two jobs. Knock on the doors of a certain well-known Barre ‘homeless hotel’ and you will find laborers and food service workers. They just can’t find housing because – due to income limits, prison records, or real or perceived rental histories – they are the ones left standing when the music stops. 

And yet. It may seem oxymoronic. And heartless. Or both. But I believe it’s true: purportedly compassionate policies offering plentiful, free emergency housing both grow and maintain Vermont’s core population of  ‘homeless.’

Why do I think this?

Personal experience. During the pandemic, a loved one was living in New Hampshire in federally-funded homeless housing. As soon as the federal money disappeared, so did the paid-for hotel room. My loved one and significant other moved to Vermont “because there is free housing there.” Supply and demand.

The cautionary tale of California. Vermont, like the Golden State, subscribes to a policy called Housing First. The idea is simple: give people housing and they won’t be homeless anymore. And with that most basic of needs addressed, it is hoped they will be far, far more willing and able to work on the causes of their homelessness: substance abuse, mental illness, lack of training and opportunity, domestic abuse, etc.

But California, like Vermont, does not require recipients of emergency housing to work on the issues that put them on the street. Nor do any of Vermont’s current legislative or administrative solutions feature such requirements. Rather, lawmakers opposing the $21 million extension of emergency housing benefits through June are branded as heartless.

California homeless advocate Michelle Streeb reported this week that “under Housing First’s rule, California has experienced a 37% increase in homelessness. At the Federal level, where it was rolled out in 2013 as a one-size-fits-all approach, the country experienced over a 16% increase, despite a 200% increase in funding and a relatively robust economy.”

“No amount of money will fix this crisis,” Streeb concludes. “In 13 years of working with single-mother-led families— more than 70% of the homeless family population—there are thousands of women who will join me in attesting that a housing unit or a subsidy, in and of themselves, would not have supported them to overcome the challenges that led to their homelessness… the challenges that would have prevented them from living full lives today.”

So – what will?

To its credit, Vermont offers many training, mental health, substance abuse, and family services to homeless people. But clearly, just offering the help isn’t enough. There’s no incentive. As Gov. Scott said at a recent press conference, his administration doesn’t require any reciprocal self-improvement efforts of emergency housing recipients. 

Is it offered? Yes. Required? No. The fear of letting people fall off the benefits cliff – quite possibly to their deaths – terrifies policy makers. See California. 

So unless the State of Vermont puts on its collective thinking cap and finds ways to show constructive tough love, we will continue to emulate California. Which – we all agree – in this case isn’t a good thing, at all.

Categories: Commentary

15 replies »

  1. Um….this state attracts homeless like flies because of it’s exceedingly generous (read taxpayer funded) benefits and services. By doing so it also provides little to no incentive for these people to change their station in life.

    If you stop enabling them then the problem goes away.

    Believe it or not, but tough love works.

  2. How can we help?
    1.) Stop communicating that VT is open to people from all over the world to live free of cost (to them) by setting them up in the failed motel system & even aiding & abetting their dangerous drug addictions maybe???
    2.) Stop referring to everyone who steps foot in VT as a “Vermonter” & establish long-term residency requirements that must be documented & confirmed.
    3.) Stop enabling drug dependency with “safe” injection site B.S. speak & Start instead enabling people to avail themselves of mental health & addiction treatment.

    But this is NOT what extremists in the VT legislature want. And it’s not what their comrades in other blue states want. They want the CULLING of the Baby Boom “patriotic” generation, the sick, the elderly, the Caucasian race who deserve to be punished, the disabled, & the babies set to be born. They want them: GONE.

    They do want an easy malleable population who do NOT know American history or the rights of the US Constitution, who are compromised by drugs, and those who are totally reliant upon the “state” for everything. In other words, Communism, Totalitarianism, Marxism, – and any of the other “isms” that are known throughout the annals of history for being the “shining lights” of governance we should strive for.

    Legislators: You are TRAITORS to the flag & all it stands for. And remember, what goes around, comes around. Karma might not be “instant” as Lennon thought…..but it will indeed “get ya”!!!

    • Kathleen, although I don’t care so much about flags, I do care about this country and the rights and freedoms here. This the influx threatens.

    • i agree with you,100%….where are the Vermonters of old….where did all these progressives come from ? why are the every day working people , the ones paying dearly for all this not voting them out..?

  3. 70% of the “homeless family,” population are single mothers? And a free house doesn’t fix the problem?

    Imagine that.

  4. I find it an astute observation that more housing of some kind is provided in VT. Thus there is a more accurate count of homelessness.
    Also, many homeless have been invited here to take advantage of the extensive welfare benefits.

  5. People are people. It doesn’t matter if you are in radical California or Bernieland. No one chooses to be homeless. People become homeless mostly do to addiction / mental illness There obviously 🙄 isn’t proper mental health services dealing with this issue which has been studied and written about extensively in California. If the state provides compassionate mental health facilities whereby people can get on, and stay on, their feet then people won’t be on living in the street.

  6. Start compelling in-patient treatment for those convicted of crimes related to drug dependency. Why can’t rehab take place in jail? Stop catch and release for addicts. Being “free” is harmful to both them and the greater community. Harm to the public or offender is a legal and constitutional reason to deny bail.

  7. The same vermont bureaucrats rescuing the homeless are incentivizing it with woke legislation first. It falsely justifies and ensures the preservation of their of their grifter careers.

  8. There are several reasons for this. One of course are the many people that come to VT specifically for the benefits we hand out like candy. This is well known and many of our homeless or those filling our limited affordable housing have recently arrived from elsewhere. I think that proof of VT residency for at least several years should be a requirement for any assistance.

    A second reason is that VT is so intent on handing out benefits to some that they remain on the benefits train and don’t make the efforts necessary to obtain good employment etc.

    And thirdly is our lack of housing and the ever growing number of homes being occupied as seasonal vacation properties or being used as AirBnB style rentals. This drives up the costs on the remaining properties as they are scarce. When people with good jobs move here and just can’t find a home to rent that is a problem.

    We cannot afford to house the world here though. Trying to house(and feed) the ever increasing number of homeless flocking here will bankrupt the state.

    • The state is already bankrupt, it can’t function without 30% of it’s budget coming from the feds. No that leaky Leahey is gone and Peter Principal is wearing his shoes and the congress is now controlled by the republicans, the gravy train will be reduced dramatically. Teacher and state employee pension funds are $5 Billion in the negative and the social and ideological spending by the loonie left is a recipe for disaster. Thank a Vermont voter for this.

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