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From motel rooms to tents: Barre leaders grapple with end of state emergency housing

A curving street leading to a rural downtown area.
Elodie Reed
This hour, we'll hear from community leaders in Barre on assisting unhoused residents.

Thousands of Vermonters are losing a roof over their heads in the coming weeks, and the best option some of them may get to survive is a tent for camping.

“It's a bad option. But it may be one of the few options we have,” said Rick DeAngelis, co-director of Good Samaritan Haven in Barre. 

DeAngelis joined Vermont Edition on Monday to talk about the end of the pandemic-era emergency motel housing program as it relates to Barre and surrounding communities.

The statewide emergency housing program is set to run out of funding this summer. According to the Agency of Human Services, 760 households across Vermont will lose their motel housing on June 1. Another 1,050 households will lose their eligibility July 1.

More from Vermont Public: Breakaway Democratic, Progressive lawmakers look to force extension of motel housing program

“Poverty is everywhere, and yet it's really invisible to most people,” said Sue Minter, executive director of Capstone Community Action. “Well, this summer, if this program ends as is — if there's no plans, and all we can do is give people tents — people can expect to see people in tents in their public parks, in their downtowns.”

Good Samaritan Haven tripled its shelter capacity in recent years — but it’s still not enough. The shelters are full or nearly full every night, DeAngelis said: “We've tried to respond to this situation. But it is an unprecedented situation in need.”

Motel resident: Camping not viable

Colby Lynch and her partner are among the households who will be affected. After being evicted from their room in a house in Randolph Center, Lynch and her partner lived in their vehicles for about a month and had to give up their cat, Muffins.

They finally were approved for the motel housing program and have been living at the Quality Inn in Barre for 18 months. Lynch, who is college-educated, left her job as a home care provider and started working at a bowling alley; with a lower income, the couple could keep a roof over their head.

“I tried to focus my energies on advocacy of looking for places that we could go,” Lynch said on Vermont Edition. “There's a huge dearth in apartments, and once one does get listed, it seems like there's hundreds of hundreds of applicants for one place.”

As the end of the motel housing program approaches, Lynch says neither living in a vehicle nor camping is an option.

“I can't take that level of stress and trauma that that brings on when you have nowhere to go to the bathroom, and the list goes on,” Lynch said.

Instead, Lynch said she and her partner will likely leave the state. They hope for a fresh start and a long-term solution.

“I have to say that, you know, with deadlines looming that are out of your control and programs ending and all this stuff, there's a certain kind of like psychological torture that goes on with that,” Lynch said. “And I'd like to live free of that, you know, that burden.”

What Barre is trying

Social service providers in Barre are looking for creative solutions for the hundreds of people there who will suddenly lose housing — and they’re also asking state government to take responsibility.

Capstone Community Action and Good Samaritan haven are raising funds for tents and supplies and looking to meet people’s basic needs.

“We are trying to provide the most humane future we can,” Minter said. “We hope that it can be appropriate shelter. It could look like pods, it could look like manufactured housing, it could look like maybe temporary medical facilities. It could look like many many things, but it needs to be recognized as the emergency it is.”

More from Vermont Public: Advocates brace for humanitarian crisis when over 2,000 Vermonters lose emergency housing

Barre City Manager Nicolas Storellicastro said the city is considering using the B.O.R. skating facility as an emergency shelter location if it could have appropriate staffing and security. But there aren’t many options in Barre City, and Storellicastro is looking to the state.

“It’s unfortunate that we're there over the lack of planning by the state,” Storellicastro said. “We've asked, actually, the state to be a partner in this, because Barre City doesn't have land for camping. What can the state do? The state has way more land than we do. The state runs campgrounds, which they have so far not been willing to open up for people to use. The state has multitudes of office buildings that many of which — even in downtown Barre — remain vacant due to working from home rules.”

Storellicastro said another area of discussion is whether Vermont cities could become guarantors on a master lease to get people into vacant spaces and underutilized housing.

But if it comes down to camping, Storellicastro said, towns and cities can’t manage the need on their own.

“If camping is the state policy,” Storellicastro said, “we’d love the state to be a partner in helping us locate campsites for individuals who are coming out of the program.”

Broadcast at noon Monday, May 22, 2023; rebroadcast at 7 p.m.

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Mikaela Lefrak is the host and senior producer of Vermont Edition. Her stories have aired nationally on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Weekend Edition, Marketplace, The World and Here & Now. A seasoned local reporter, Mikaela has won two regional Edward R. Murrow awards and a Public Media Journalists Association award for her work.
Andrea Laurion joined Vermont Public as a news producer for Vermont Edition in December 2022. She is a native of Pittsburgh, Pa., and a graduate of the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland, Maine. Before getting into audio, Andrea worked as an obituary writer, a lunch lady, a wedding photographer assistant, a children’s birthday party hostess, a haunted house actor, and an admin assistant many times over.