It's a stressful time for these Vermonters as the motel housing program continues changing
On a recent sunny afternoon, Paula Broe, 60, and Krystal Goss, 36, are sitting outside their rooms at a small motel in Orleans County. Broe has dark, shoulder-length hair streaked with gray and an eyebrow ring. Goss’ copper colored hair is mostly pulled back in a ponytail. She’s wearing a tank top that has a butterfly and the words "be kind" across the middle.
Broe and her dog Cujo, a Pomeranian and rat terrier mix, have been living at this motel for about two years; Goss just arrived in April. The two quickly became friends.
“I just came over,” Goss said. “And from there we’ve been together every day.”
“We’re each other’s emotional support,” Broe said.
The two women frequently cook dinner together, which is complicated since their rooms don’t have kitchens. Instead the two make do with a variety of small appliances, like griddles, an air-fryer and microwaves.
“I make homemade lasagna from scratch, even the sauce,” Broe said.
Broe and Goss are among the thousands of Vermonters experiencing homelessness who’ve been sheltered at motels through an emergency housing program that was expanded during the coronavirus pandemic.
Broe has lived in a few different rooms at this motel in Orleans County over the past two years. Her current room is one of the larger ones with a full bathroom and shower, and enough space for a bed, small dining table and a couch.
Broe would prefer to have her own apartment. She’s been on waiting lists for affordable housing through Northeast Kingdom Community Action, and Rural Edge, a local housing nonprofit. So far she hasn’t had any luck.
“I’ve been waiting for two years — I've been trying,” Broe said. “I wanted to get out of here. I didn’t want to live here for two years. I mean, I'm grateful to be here, but yeah, I’d rather have my own place.”
The motel program was expanded during the COVID-19 pandemic, but federal and state funding for more robust emergency housing program ran dry this year, and the state planned to ramp the program down this summer. On June 1, about 800 people lost housing at motels around the state, and hundreds more would have been kicked out of their rooms over the next few months. But during last week’s veto session, lawmakers passed a bill to allow anyone still in the motel program to keep their room until they find alternative housing.
Broe and Goss say there’s still a lot of stress and uncertainty that comes from not having a permanent home, and they’re forced to make tough choices — like Broe's recent decision to leave the motel she's been living at for two years. She was eligible to stay, but she learned last week that there are new rules that take effect on July 1, including one that will require her to contribute 30% of her monthly income to help pay for her room.
Broe, who’s on disability, would have to pay $500 a month, and she’d have to move to a smaller room. She says after paying for housing, her car, and food, she wouldn’t have much left.
“If I had my own apartment for that, it would be one thing,” Broe said. “But I'm not paying for that little room that I'm just cooped up in … and I can't not have a car. How am I gonna get around? I'm by myself.”
Broe had less than two weeks to figure out where to go. She’s moving into her ex-husband’s apartment, which isn’t ideal because Cujo doesn’t get along with her ex-husband’s dog. But Broe said she doesn’t have a choice.
And Broe thinks people make assumptions about her because she’s been using the motel program, like that she’s lazy.
“Just looking for free housing, you know, like the state’s paying for it,” Broe said. “No, it’s not like that at all — I can’t find an apartment. I’ve looked.”
Goss, who’s also on disability, is going to be staying in the motel program — for now. She says it’s tough not having a permanent home, and she’s worried about getting forced into a bad living situation.
“Some of the places I could go aren’t so good,” Goss said. “And so you know, you’ve got to think of that decision — do you want to put yourself in a bad place, and you know take the chances of, you know, things going wrong?”
Both Goss and Broe say that the uncertainty about the motel housing program is exhausting.
“It kind of makes you feel like you failed, really failed and continued failing,” Goss said. “I'm very thankful, I mean, very grateful for what they're doing to help us. I just feel there should be better choices with it.”
Both women say the stress is hard to manage, so they help each other cope. They’ll stay up late, talking and watching “Hell’s Kitchen” — their favorite TV show.
“It really hypes us up, we love cooking,” Goss said.
Goss has offered to help Broe pack up her motel room, and the two plan to keep in touch. They’ll talk through Facebook, and video calls, Goss said. And Broe reminds her that she has a Jeep so she can come by for a visit.
This story is the first in a series of dispatches from Vermont's housing crisis. Are you living in motel housing, or did you recently have to leave? Have questions, comments, tips? Get in touch below.
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