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Vermont recently evicted around 800 people from motel housing. Here's how one woman is doing

A street with a heavy cloud overhead.
Elodie Reed
In Barre, as in the rest of the state, there's not enough affordable housing to meet demand.

Vermont is in the process of winding down a pandemic-era program that paid for motel rooms for people experiencing homelessness. The first round of evictions too took place on June 1st; about 800 people had to leave their rooms.

Colby Lynch was one of them. She and her partner lived at the Quality Inn in Barre for 18 months until they were evicted.

Vermont Edition's Mikaela Lefrak first spoke to Lynch a couple days before she was set to be evicted. Lynch was working regular shifts at a bowling alley while trying to figure out where she'd move after the motel program ended. She is now living at her mother's house in Manchester, New Hampshire — a move she hopes will be temporary.

This transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity.

What was it like moving out? Did you have to leave your room on June 1?

Oh yeah. I had gotten most of my stuff out of there a couple days ahead of time ... The biggest challenge it was that it was just so darn hot — it was in the 90s. There had been talk, before we left, between other motel guests [about] not knowing what they were going to do. And it was a kind of stressful situation, especially for the people that were, you know, getting tents from the agencies and didn't know where to put the tents. That seemed to be a big problem.

There's just no space in that area to actually camp out?

Yeah, yeah, exactly. They were getting tents from places like Good Sam[aritan Haven] and the different agencies. A lot of people were on foot, too. They didn't have vehicles. So they were literally out there on the curb with their stuff.

There was workers there from Washington County Mental Health and a few of the other agencies. They had water with them and stuff, and just trying to help people the best they could.

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

So you drove down to New Hampshire — did your partner come with you?

He's having his own challenges right now. I think he's gonna end up down here, staying at his dad's place. But for right now, he's still up there [in Vermont]. ... But I know this area, because I lived down here with my son years ago. So I know the area, but I have to say even this area's changed a lot. I'm still trying to figure out what's going on, you know — navigate the bus routes, that kind of thing.

Do you think you'll stay down there, or do you want to come back to Vermont?

Well, it's all hinging on the housing situation. But for right now, I'm here. And I mean, I'm just thankful that, you know, my mom was able to take me in and I'm not sleeping in a car.

Do you have any leads, or any hope that that there will be a place for you to stay in Vermont? Have folks talked to you about housing vouchers or other [affordable housing] placements?

Well, we were on a lot of lists. I never quit looking for a place when we were in that motel. I was forthright on doing all the paperwork, and the letters that were coming back were saying the waitlist was 36 to 48 months. And I'm looking at Tyler [my partner] and saying, three or four years? What are we supposed to do in the meantime? We were just coming up with nothing.

But I keep going, you know. No matter what the situation, I keep going. I'm going to start working down here somewhere. I don't know where yet. I'm still trying to get used to not having all my stuff. I just took some art supplies down here, a little bit of clothes. Everything's in storage right now. I paid up the storage unit for three months, so I won't have to worry about that until August. I've done as much damage control as I could do while I still had a little bit of money from my bowling alley job.

A curving street leading to a rural downtown area.
Elodie Reed
In the Barre area, about 233 households have had to leave motel emergency housing or are expected to be evicted in late July.

Do you have friends or people that you knew at the motel who are still there and have until the end of July to figure out what to do?

They're all they're all really freaked out. It's a tense, stressful mood around there these days, whereas a year ago on the weekends, I used to say it was party central. People were out there with the grill and kind of trying to enjoy the summer, and it's a much different picture now.

I'm curious what you want people to know about what's been going on [at the motels], and about the people who are affected.

I believe that there still exists a stigma around homelessness in general, and I just feel like that has to go away. We're in a different time after the pandemic, and people have to realize that what they relied on back before the pandemic isn't there anymore. And from my vantage point, everybody needs help. Getting a job isn't the problem. The struggle is real when you don't have anywhere to live.

And I think people have to look at their neighbors — the peoples in their communities — differently and realize, hey, guys, we're all in this together. And because of somebody's living situation, that doesn't make them any less of a community member than somebody that owns their own home. So I think people should just keep having empathy towards others, and try to help. You should try to help each other out.

Colby, you've got to run for office or something! You're so clear-sighted about all of this.

I see the big picture, and I have for a while. ... I do have the lived experience as a homeless person. I don't want people to give up, no matter what they're going through. I don't want people to give up. I want them to know that we're all humans, we all make mistakes sometimes. And there's times in life where you didn't make any mistakes, and things just happen.

Now that the program is over and you've had to move out, is there anything that you miss about living at the motel?

Well, in general, I miss the area. I miss the close community connections and how everybody knows everybody's name. Now I'm down here in a big city. I have some old connections from when my son was growing up in this city, but people have moved on with their lives since I've been in Vermont. I do miss Vermont, and I miss the clean air. I'm definitely more of a laid-back country girl. I'm a mountain mama at heart, I really am.

Well, I do hope that you and your partner can can make it back here and find a way forward. And I'm just really appreciative of you stayed in touch and talking to us about it.

Oh, hey, no problem. And trust me, I'd love to make it back up that way. I just, you know, I can't live in a tent.

Broadcast at noon Tuesday, June 13, 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.