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Scott administration offers new details on shelter plan for Vermonters losing motel housing

A brick motel building with red doors
Carly Berlin
Vermont Public and VTDigger
The Autumn Inn, a motel in Bennington that shelters unhoused people through the state’s motel voucher program, pictured on Jan. 31, 2024.

This story, by Report for America corps member Carly Berlin, was produced through a partnership between VTDigger and Vermont Public.

Officials from Gov. Phil Scott’s administration offered more details Thursday on their plans to set up temporary, emergency shelters for unhoused Vermonters exiting the state’s pandemic-era motel housing program.

In addition to standing up a congregate shelter at the Waterbury Armory, the Department for Children and Families is moving forward with plans for a family shelter at the former Austine School for the Deaf in Brattleboro, and is working on standing up three “emergency shelter apartments” in central Vermont with service provider Capstone Community Action, DCF commissioner Chris Winters told lawmakers at a Statehouse hearing Thursday. The department could also establish up to three sites with mobile shelter units containing 46 beds each, but it hasn’t settled on locations for those, Winters said.

The shelters would vary widely in scale.

The Brattleboro family shelter, a partnership with the Winston Prouty Center for Child and Family Development, would have 20 rooms for families with children — enough space for roughly 50 individuals — and could run for approximately 17 months.

The Capstone apartments would have seven bedrooms total and could run for 15 months.

The Waterbury Armory is planned to operate for three months with space for 40 people — a large-scale group setting that Winter acknowledged is “not ideal, but we’re putting all options on the table.”

The variety of shelter models are meant “to relieve some of the pressure in the hotel-motel system and send a message that we are not stuck with exclusively using hotels,” Winters said.

Person in blue dress shirt in front of white background
Natalie Williams
Chris Winters is the commissioner of the Vermont Department for Children and Families.

DCF has planned to establish these shelters by April 1, a deadline lawmakers set last year when they brokered a last-minute deal to keep several thousand people — primarily families with children, elderly Vermonters, and people with disabilities – sheltered in motels through an expanded, pandemic-era program. Last month, the House advanced a measure that would keep that same group — along with hundreds more people staying in motels during the winter through a separate adverse-weather program — sheltered through the end of June. But that extension still needs to clear the Senate and get the governor’s sign-off.

As the end-date for the pandemic-era program remains in flux, elements of the exit strategy remain uncertain. The state lacks a service provider to staff the Waterbury site, and is still finalizing agreements for the Brattleboro and central Vermont projects. And officials admit the number of beds they hope to have available will pale in comparison to the need.

As of Feb. 5, over 1,000 people remain in motels under the pandemic-era rules — about a third of them children.

Another 1,300 people were in motels under the adverse weather policy as of that date. Month-long vouchers through the winter policy are set to end March 15. After that, people must reapply for a room on a night-by-night basis, based on strict weather-dependent criteria.

Lawmakers have repeatedly expressed frustration that the Scott administration has yet to put forth a fully developed plan to shelter those slotted to lose their motel rooms. And on Thursday they reiterated those concerns.

“To bottom-line it for myself, I want to make sure I’m understanding,” said Rep. Kathleen James, D-Manchester. On April 1, over 1,000 people will lose their vouchers, James said — not including the adverse weather group — and “so far I’m seeing ready to go, contracts signed, room for maybe a hundred people? Everything else is in the works or underway?”

“Correct,” Winters said.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message.

Carly covers housing and infrastructure for Vermont Public and VTDigger and is a corps member with the national journalism nonprofit Report for America.
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