Vermont Public is independent, community-supported media, serving Vermont with trusted, relevant and essential information. We share stories that bring people together, from every corner of our region. New to Vermont Public? Start here.

© 2024 Vermont Public | 365 Troy Ave. Colchester, VT 05446

Public Files:

For assistance accessing our public files, please contact or call 802-655-9451.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Northern Vermont is in the path of totality for a rare total solar eclipse on Monday, April 8.

As eclipse watchers arrive in Vermont, some motel residents must pack up to make room

A woman wearing a coat and glasses sits and looks at the camera. Several chairs are stacked on tables in the room.
Carly Berlin
Vermont Public and VTDigger
Annette Berry sits for a portrait at the Days Inn in Colchester on April 4, 2024, as she prepares to pack up her room. The hotel is one of several clearing the rooms of Vermonters sheltered through the state’s emergency housing program to accommodate eclipse tourists.

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

COLCHESTER – At the Colchester Days Inn on Thursday afternoon, Annette Berry found herself contemplating a task that was both daunting and exhaustingly familiar: how to efficiently pack up all her belongings and move.

“My George Foreman, my Crock-Pot, my ramen noodle pot … dishes, cups, glasses, knickknacks …” Berry said from the breakfast room of the hotel she’s lived in since February, with a voucher from Vermont’s emergency shelter program. “You know, just stuff that I had in my house, when I had a house.”

The 60-year-old said she has been homeless since 2019, when she lost her Section 8 voucher for an apartment in Florida that was rife with maintenance issues. She and her 77-year-old partner came to Vermont to be closer to family. They’ve since shuttled between motels in Rutland, Barton and Middlebury — made all the more difficult because they lack a car — before finding a degree of stability at the Days Inn over the last few months.

Now, they’re preparing to uproot again. As tens of thousands of visitors are expected to stream into northern Vermont this weekend to catch a glimpse of Monday’s total solar eclipse, some motels and hotels in the state’s emergency shelter program are clearing their rooms to accommodate the celestial event chasers – who are driving up hotel prices across the path of totality nationwide.

Hotel rooms in Chittenden County this weekend are booking for upwards of $500 a night. The state currently pays motels and hotels $80 a night to shelter unhoused Vermonters.

Three lodging establishments that shelter unhoused Vermonters have told the state they would not accept state vouchers in the days leading up to the eclipse: the Anchorage Inn in South Burlington, and the Motel 6 and Days Inn in Colchester.

Around 50 households are sheltered through the program at the Chittenden County locations, with the majority at the Days Inn, said Miranda Gray, deputy commissioner of the Department for Children and Families’ economic services division.

Most of the households impacted have indicated to the state that they have friends or family who can host them during the eclipse interruption, Gray said on Friday morning. DCF staff are assisting the other households to find options for alternative places to stay, including finding open motel rooms in other parts of the state, she added.

Around a third of the impacted households are required to contribute a portion of their income to the state to maintain their voucher, in the form of “self-pay days” at the motels, Gray said. Every month, such households can decide to leave the motels rather than pay for these days. That means these households could essentially disappear from the state’s radar for a few days over the eclipse and then re-emerge afterwards.

Berry made plans to stay with her daughter over the long weekend, though she hesitated to ask for the favor. She worries packing into her daughter’s home in Ferrisburgh could jeopardize a family custody situation because of overcrowding. And she fears that telling the state that she can stay with her daughter could make it appear that she doesn’t need her motel room anymore.

“My daughter is the one that said, ‘Why would you stay in a tent?’ She said, ‘You know you can come here,’” Berry said. “I said, ‘I don’t want to lose my voucher.’ She said, ‘You’re only coming to visit.’ I said, ‘Well, yeah, that’s one way of looking at it.’”

Asked about Berry’s concern, Gray emphasized that the motel program is meant to be an option of last resort. If there are reasons why family or friends can’t accommodate someone permanently, “those are conversations that we also have with people everyday, to really try to understand what the situation is,” she said.

For other unhoused guests at the Days Inn, staff have attempted to house multiple people in a given room for the weekend. While the hotel was booked solid for the eclipse weekend months ahead of time, some visitors have canceled their stays, and as rooms have opened up, employees have offered to bunk up multiple unhoused guests in rooms together to give them an option other than sleeping out in the elements.

One guest, who agreed to speak about his living situation under the condition of anonymity, said he’ll be tripling up with two other guests he was grouped with by the hotel for the days surrounding the eclipse.

“It’s a roof over our head,” he said in the parking lot on Thursday afternoon, as snow fell. “It’s better than the other options.”

Gabe Handy, who owns the hotel, declined to comment for this story.

A motel with snow covering a small vestibule roof labeled "lobby"
Carly Berlin
VTDigger and Vermont Public
The Days Inn in Colchester on April 4, 2024. The hotel is one of several clearing the rooms of Vermonters sheltered through the state’s emergency housing program to accommodate eclipse tourists.

Nothing prevents motel and hotel owners from declining to provide rooms for unhoused guests through the state program. The state does not have a contract with the lodging establishments, and historically, when large numbers of people come to certain parts of the state at once — such as during college graduation weekends — there’s “disruption” in the motel program, Gray said.

The state is interested in entering into longer term contracts with the motels and hotels, but as lawmakers debate the program’s future beyond this summer, there’s “a lot of uncertainty,” Gray said.

Without knowing what the scale of the program might be beyond July — until which many motel program participants have extensions — the state is wary of signing longer-term agreements, she said.

Paul Dragon, executive director of the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity, said the temporary eclipse displacements highlight the drawbacks of depending on businesses to shelter people.

“The bottom line of this is that, you know, we rely on hotels, which has been really good in many, many ways — we’ve been able to shelter so many people. We saw that through COVID,” Dragon said. “And we also know that when you rely on for-profit businesses to do this work, there's a different orientation.”

“We don't want to be using this many motel rooms every year, endlessly. We want people to have their own housing."
Miranda Gray, deputy commissioner of the Department for Children and Families’ economic services division

Gray also emphasized the need to move away from the state’s reliance on motels and hotels to shelter unhoused residents. She pointed to the Scott administration’s focus on encouraging more housing development.

“We don't want to be using this many motel rooms every year, endlessly. We want people to have their own housing,” she said.

On Thursday afternoon, Berry expected to need to leave the Days Inn the next morning. But on Friday morning, staff let her know she can stay until Sunday. Now, she’s holding out hope that enough visitors cancel their eclipse trips that she can stay put.

“I’m still praying to God that come Sunday, I’ll be good till Tuesday and get my voucher renewed,” she said. “But I’m packing just in case.”

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.
Latest Stories