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Department For Children And Families Wants To Revamp Emergency Housing Program

A pile of bags and other personal belongings in a church basement.
Howard Weiss-Tisman
A pile of personal belongings stored late last year at Montpelier's Bethany Church, where the Good Samaritan Haven emergency shelter is located. DCF will be rewriting the rules for the state's emergency housing program over the coming year.

On some of the coldest nights of the year, a state-run program helps find emergency housing for people. The Vermont Department for Children and Families is now planning a revamp of the rules that govern this program, which has been around for more than 50 years.

State officials say the current eligibility requirements that have been built into the program piecemeal through the years are confusing and require too much staff time.

“This program has kind of evolved over time with new pieces being added,” said Department for Children and Families Deputy Commissioner Sean Brown. “And as a result of that, the rules are very complicated. And we believe there’s just a better way to administer this program.”

Brown said the staff spends too much time on paperwork, trying to determine if people are eligible to receive assistance.

He said the process can also be frustrating and confusing for the clients who are often in the middle of some crisis — and if these changes are made, they’ll receive better support in the end.

“Right now we spend an immense amount of time with our staff just doing that eligibility work,” Brown said. “And we feel like if we can streamline those rules, to make that a much simpler process, that we can shift those resources to actually start serving people and helping them move forward.”

Brown said the department does not expect the changes to cost money, but will require instead a restructuring of the work that is now being done.

"This program has kind of evolved over time with new pieces being added. And as a result of that, the rules are very complicated. And we believe there's just a better way to administer this program." — Sean Brown, Department for Children and Families

Over the past year, department officials met with staff on the ground, in the regional offices, and this year the department will work on a new set of rules for the housing program.

Last year the number of people applying for emergency housing increased by almost 20 percent, according to the annual legislative report.

The report also notes the state is concerned about Vermont’s aging population. State officials say as the average age of people who are homeless increases, there will likely be more pressures put on the system as a whole.

Howard Weiss-Tisman is Vermont Public's reporter for Southern Vermont & the Connecticut River Valley. He worked at the Brattleboro Reformer for 11 years, reporting on most towns in the region and specializing on statewide issues including education, agriculture, energy and mental health. Howard received a BA in Journalism from University of Massachusetts. He filed his first story with Vermont Public in September 2015.
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