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Record Cold Plays Havoc With Emergency Housing Budget

Posted March 20, 2015

This week, VT Digger reported more on the strain that this year’s winter weather has put on the emergency housing budget. Read the article below or click here to view on their website:

In February, temperatures dropped to minus 19 degrees at the Burlington International Airport, breaking a record that stood since 1914.

Vermont set more troubling records this winter as well — the most consecutive nights where a cold weather exemption gave homeless people in the state access to emergency housing.

For 69 days, from Dec. 29 to March 8, every county in the state met the requirement for a cold weather exemption. When temperatures drop below 20 degrees, or below 32 degrees with snow or freezing rain, the state relaxes the eligibility requirements for emergency housing.

That’s the longest streak of statewide cold weather exemptions since the program’s implementation three years ago.

At the same time, the number of people, especially families, who are homeless and seeking emergency shelter from the cold has also increased, according to state officials. Their ranks well exceed the capacity of warming shelters, and the state is housing homeless Vermonters in hotel rooms.

The state approved $3.4 million to cover 36,314 hotel nights through the end of February; 8,942 were for the people who qualified under the cold weather exemption, at a cost of $1.5 million. Virtually all that money is spent on hotel and motel lodgings. Those numbers may come down as sometimes people approved for a hotel stay don’t show, and it can take up to two months for the state to receive bills from participating hotels.

The amount that has been approved already exceeds the $3.2 million in the current budget for emergency housing. That appropriation includes an additional $600,000 from the Budget Adjustment Act — and it does not include March, which has had a number of cold weather nights in many areas of the state.

“Based on our current spending we are going to be over budget,” said Sean Brown, deputy commissioner of economic services for the Department for Children and Families. “We are going to have to re-evaluate our budget for the program and find a new way forward.”

Appropriating more money for the current budget would require approval from the Emergency Board, a panel chaired by the governor and consisting of the chairs of the Legislature’s money committees.

Even with the opening of a new 20-bed warming shelter at the old Ethan Allen Club in Burlington, the highest demand area, costs continue to mount. That shelter has run at overflow capacity since opening in early February, housing between 24 and 28 people per night, according to Brown.

It still hasn’t been enough to keep up with demand, and costs continue to mount.

“Given the growth in the need in the program, that didn’t put a huge dent in spending,” Brown said.

Next year, the state will open a 52-bed shelter in downtown Burlington, which will help reduce costs Brown said, but at the same time, the governor’s proposed budget cuts $300,000 from the program in anticipation of those savings.

A dramatic rise in homelessness is driving the need for emergency housing. Requests for housing were up 64 percent through December, and the state provided 50 percent more hotel rooms per night. More families are seeking shelter, and there has been a 144 percent increase in the number of children who received housing through the cold weather exemption.

The events that lead to homelessness are varied and often unique to the individual or their family. Still, advocates point to the rise in substance abuse disorders, especially opiate addiction, stagnant wages and a lack of affordable housing in the state as a few of the underlying causes.

 



Cold Winter Stretches State’s Emergency Housing Budget

Posted February 10, 2015

VT Digger reports on how demand for emergency housing this winter has increased, particularly amongst families with children, and how this affects the state’s budget for temporary shelter:

A cold winter and greater demand for emergency housing services, especially among families, are straining the state’s safety net housing budget, an official told lawmakers Friday.

The state provides up to 28 days of temporary housing to individuals and families who are homeless if someone is age 65 or older; if they receive Social Security or disability; if they are under age 6; or if they are in the third trimester of pregnancy. There are also ways for specific vulnerable populations, such as disabled veterans or Reach Up recipients, to qualify.

In addition, there is a cold weather exemption that relaxes the eligibility requirements when temperatures drop below 20 degrees, or 32 degrees with snow or freezing rain.

Since July, more than half of temporary housing granted was through the cold weather exemption, despite the fact that no days in October met the criteria. The state has spent more than $855,000 through the exemption this winter.

“That’s getting close to what we spent all of last season, and we still have February, March and some of April to get through,” said Sean Brown, deputy commissioner in charge of the Department for Children and Families Economic Services Division. January was particularly bad, with every night meeting the cold weather requirement in all 14 counties, Brown said.

A lack of space in shelters has increased the number of people the state is putting up in hotels and motels, he said. Requests for housing were up 64 percent through December, and the state provided 50 percent more hotel rooms per night.

The increasing need among families seeking shelter has resulted in a 144 percent rise in the number of children who received housing through the cold weather exemption, which Brown called an “alarming” statistic.

Often space for families in shelters is limited, and many wind up in rooms rented by the state. At the same time, the average cost of hotel and motel lodging for those who can’t find space in shelters has increased from $61 to $70 this fiscal year over last.

The problem is especially bad right now in Barre where space for families in shelters is scarce, and the cost for hotels in the temporary housing program is the highest in the state at $80 per night, Brown said.

To read the entire article click here.

 



VPR’s Vermont Edition Covers Emergency and Transitional Housing Issues

Posted November 5, 2013

This afternoon’s Vermont Edition took a look at problems of homelessness in Vermont and the difficulty of finding affordable and safe emergency housing for families in need.  The program focused on the new Harbor Place temporary housing facility, spending issues with emergency housing vouchers, as well as discussing other issues concerning emergency and transitional housing.

VPR’s Jane Lindholm spoke spoke with Michael Monte of Champlain Housing Trust, Commissioner Dave Yacovone of the Vermont Department for Children and Families, and Elizabeth Ready of the John W. Graham Shelter.

Listen to the program in its entirety here.

 



Emergency housing requests rise amidst news of continued high Vermont rents

Posted March 25, 2013

By Leslie Black-Plumeau. Reposted from Housing Matters, March 18th, 2013.

“Calls fielded by Vermont 2-1-1 operators for emergency housing increased dramatically during January and February 2013.  Calls for housing and shelter assistance exceeded all other types of calls in February.

Meanwhile, Vermont found itself ranked among the 2013 most expensive jurisdictions in the country by the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s annual “Out of Reach” report.  Vermont was among the nation’s top 10 states with the highest non-metro area rents.

Read more on the Vermont 2-1-1 and the National Low Income Housing Coalition‘s websites.”

Link to Housing Matters blog