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DCF Says New Program Cuts Down On Homeless Motel Vouchers

Posted March 17, 2016

This week, the Vermont Department for Children & Families released a Budget Adjustment Report on Housing and Shelter Assistance to the Vermont Legislature. To view the report, click here. Below is commentary from VPR on the report:

State efforts to reduce the number of people who use motels for emergency housing have been effective, according to a report released this week by the Department for Children and Families.

Last winter, the state saw a significant increase in the number of people who were forced to use the motel voucher program for emergency housing.

Since then, the state put resources into developing alternative housing options across the state, and alternative shelters were set up in Burlington, St. Johnsbury and Middlebury.

Those efforts, according to the report, led to sharp reductions in traffic and significant savings.

Data for all of this winter are not yet available, but if projections hold, the state will spend about $3.9 million this winter, compared to the $4.3 million it spent last year.

The unusually mild winter also might have contributed to the decrease, the report says.

The state is putting resources into alternative housing programs across the state, and it hopes to broaden the services even further next year.

For a full link to this article, click here.


Board Gives the Nod to New Shelter

Posted August 27, 2015

The Development Review Board in Brattleboro approved Groundworks Collaborative‘s application for the use of a new location for an emergency overnight shelter, which is set to open this November. Below is an excerpt of an article from The Commons with further details on this project and what lies ahead:

Despite the warmth of this summer, the staff of Groundworks Collaborative have the cold days of winter on their minds.

In November, the organization, which serves the area’s homeless population, will open its winter emergency night shelter. Come this November, however, the emergency shelter’s traditional location, the First Baptist Church on Main Street, may not be available.

To avoid leaving an average of 25 people out in the cold Vermont winter, Groundworks has sought a new location for the emergency shelter.

At its Aug. 24 meeting, the town’s Development Review Board (DRB) approved Groundworks’ application for a change of use permit at 39 Frost St.

Conditions to the permit included no construction in the special flood hazard area, adding a bike rack, and meeting fire safety conditions such as installing a sprinkler system.

The organization plans to retrofit the former auto body shop in time for the November opening of the emergency winter overflow shelter.

According to staff at Groundworks, the Frost Street site could meet short- and long-term needs.

In the short term, the property would serve as the emergency shelter.

In the long term, it may house the emergency shelter, moving the Drop-In Center from South Main Street; hold the food shelf; and provide space for case managers and administration offices.

To continue reading the article, click here.


Emergency Housing Update, Memo, and Documents


Please see the following Memo and supporting documentation regarding Emergency Housing:

Members of the DCF Housing Team are available for questions:

Commissioner’s Office
Ken Schatz – Commissioner –
Karen Vastine – Principal Assistant –

Economic Services Division
Sean Brown – Deputy Commissioner –
Chris Dalley – General Assistance Program Director –

Office of Economic Opportunity
Sarah Phillips – Interim Chief Administrator –


Report: Emergency Housing Costs Unsustainable

Posted August 3, 2015

The Vermont Agency of Human Services recently released a biannual report on the General Assistance Emergency Housing Program. Below is an article from the Burlington Free Press on how the report shows that the current cost of the program is unsustainable and what improvements may be made in the future:

The cost of Vermont’s emergency housing program is unsustainable due to burgeoning need during winter months and the use of motels, according to a report released Friday.

The state spent $4.2 million — $1.6 million dollars more than budgeted — this year on emergency housing. Some $2.3 million is allocated for next year, though in past years the Legislature has adjusted the budget to accommodate need in the community.

“The need for emergency housing and its cost continue to be prohibitively expensive, particularly among households with victims of domestic violence,” Chris Dalley of the Economic Services Division wrote in the report to the state Legislature. “Long-term funding for emergency housing in this manner is not sustainable.”

The number of people who received cold weather emergency housing increased by 80 percent between 2014 and 2015, from 6,835 to 12,279, said Sean Brown, deputy commissioner of the Economic Services Division.

When homeless shelters are full, the state sends emergency housing recipients to motels. The average daily cost of motels has continued to burgeon annually from $47 in 2009 to $71 this year, according to the report.

“Over the past few years, the budget for emergency housing has been significantly challenging,” said Ken Schatz, commissioner of the Department for Children and Families.

For example, last year, the Legislature adjusted the budget from $2.6 million to $3.2 million. The program still went over budget to $4.2 million for the fiscal year ending in June.

The majority of the overspending — $850,000—stemmed from need during the winter months.

Officials with the Department for Children and Families are working with community partners to come up with alternatives to motels, such as temporary or seasonal warming shelters, Schatz said.

For example, last winter, the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity opened a temporary warming shelter with 20 beds at the site of the old Ethan Allen Club on College Street in Burlington.

The Department for Children and Families helped to fund that community effort.

“That program was full every night it was open,” Schatz said. “Instead of having to pay for motels, the shelter addressed needs at a lower cost.”

“The cost of establishing and operating shelters is significantly less than giving motel vouchers, but opening them requires some preparation,” Schatz added.

Schatz said department officials are in discussions about the possibility of opening warming shelters next winter in Burlington and St. Johnsbury.

“We want to create alternatives to meet those housing needs without relying upon motels so motels would be a last resort,” Schatz said. “We are working with the community to identify what is missing in communities.”

State law requires the biannual report to the Legislature.

But Schatz noted that emergency housing in just one piece of addressing homelessness. The state also needs to provide more affordable housing, he said.

“Hopefully, we will move forward with more affordable housing and will reduce the need for emergency housing,” Schatz said.

To view the full article on the Burlington Free Press website, click here.


St. Johnsbury Officials Consider Warming Shelter

Posted July 22, 2015

VT Digger reports on current efforts being made to open a winter warming shelter in St. Johnsbury. Below is an excerpt from the article:

A local steering committee hopes to open a winter warming shelter in St. Johnsbury to house up to 10 homeless people in time for the next cold season.

Organizers are looking for support to host the facility in part of the Northeast Kingdom Youth Services building on Bagley Street and would like to have it open by October.

The state spent more than $270,000 on motel vouchers for homeless people in the St. Johnsbury area last winter. A shelter could mitigate that cost while connecting people with other services to help them escape poverty, officials say.

About 25 people turned out Thursday night at the proposed shelter site for a spaghetti supper and to learn more about the proposed overnight transitional shelter.

The committee is made up of nonprofits, including the Northeast Kingdom Community Action (NEKCA), the Community Justice Restorative Center, Inc., Northeast Kingdom Youth Services, local clergy, the Agency of Human Services, the Economic Services Division and more.

Northeast Kingdom Youth Services has offered the shelter site at “a very affordable rate,” said Val Covell, warming shelter coordinator for NEKCA.

A similar effort failed last year after opposition rose against a proposed site on Lincoln Street, she said.

Covell said the state is working with communities to find better solutions to help homeless individuals than the present voucher system, where people in crisis are put into motels on an emergency basis.

A warming shelter would help to connect people to services such as housing and employment to help them get back on their feet, Covell said.

“It’s not just about housing them, it’s about trying to help them — why are they on the street? What happened, and what can we do to get them where they need to be?” she said.

The shelter proposal will be before the town’s Development Review Board on July 30, where a vote on the change of use application filed by Northeast Kingdom Youth Services is expected.

To finish reading the full article, click here.


Shelburne Tries to Quell Shelter Concerns

Posted June 19, 2015

This week the Burlington Free Press reported on how members of the community in Shelburne and service providers are working together to make sure that Harbor Place is safe for both guests and neighbors. Below is an excerpt from the article:

“The goal is that with some simple tweaks in the process, we can make it better.” he said. “Even though it is an excellent alternative for the agencies, it is still not meeting the expectations of Shelburne.”

Shelburne Police Chief James Warden, reached by telephone on Friday, said Champlain Housing Trust has responded every time he has asked for help from the agency. For example, they have paid for a higher security presence and purchased video security cameras.

“We want it to work,” Warden said, adding that his request is for agencies to prevent “undesirables” from being sent to Harbor Place, so others can feel safe. He said violators of Harbor Place rules should not be allowed back, even after a 30-day waiting period.

Michael Monte, chief operations and financial officer for the Champlain Housing Trust, said Harbor Place is enormously better than a system of randomly placing people in hotels throughout Chittenden County.

“But what we really need are more long-term and permanent affordable housing, and we are dedicated to providing that,” Monte said. “Our goal is to create 40 more homes for the chronically homeless and 30 additional homes for homeless families in the next year.”

The Harbor Place site could not currently be considered for permanent multi-family residences, said Shelburne Town Planner Dean Pierce, because of the zoning requirement for 10,000 square feet of property for each dwelling unit in the mixed-use zone.

If the form-based zoning being discussed for Shelburne comes to fruition, the possibility could exist for buildings to be converted to permanent housing on the 6-acre Harbor Place property, Pierce said. If adopted, the new density regulations would require 7,500 square feet for the first three units of a multi-family dwelling and 2,000 for each subsequent unit, allowing the opportunity for a 60-unit residence like the Harbor Place structure to exist if it met other regulations.

Jan Demers, Executive Director of the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity, explained that the organization has a contract with the Vermont Department for Children and Families, providing services to assist the guests at Harbor Place but that CVOEO does not do referrals.

Demers said by email that she is pleased that increased communication is a priority for the neighbors, town administration and service providers. “Harbor Place is a wonderful, safe alternative to isolated hotels for short term transition housing with the goal for more rapid permanent housing solutions.”

To read the full article click here.


Seven Days Article Highlights the Struggles Victims of Domestic Violence Face When Seeking Emergency Shelter

Posted June 8, 2015

The latest issue of Seven Days​ features a great article by Alicia Freese on the struggles that victims of domestic violence face when seeking emergency shelter in Vermont. Below is a short excerpt:

“Many victims are making untenable choices between homelessness and abuse,” Auburn Watersong of the Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence told the small crowd at downtown Taylor Park.

She wasn’t being hyperbolic. Recently, emergency shelters for abuse victims have been unable to welcome everyone who comes knocking. Those who are turned away often end up in unsupervised motels along with the homeless and mentally ill.

In St. Albans, the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity runs a 10-bed shelter — one of 10 scattered across the state that offer secure accommodations to fleeing victims and their children. Program director Kris Lukens, who helped organize the rally, noted in an interview that it’s been full since last September.

Head southeast and the story is the same. WISE operates a safe home in the Upper Valley. “We don’t have the beds,” said director Peggy O’Neil.

Chittenden County’s Women Helping Battered Women has been full for roughly a year, according to executive director Kelly Dougherty.

Collectively, Vermont’s 10 shelters have a maximum capacity of 115 beds. In 2014, they provided emergency housing to 782 people for a total of nearly 29,000 nights, according to the Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, a coalition of organizations that includes the shelters.

In the same time frame, they turned away 346.

To read the entire article, click here.


AHS/DCF Emergency Housing Proposal

Posted April 28, 2015

The Agency of Human Services and Department for Children and Families have just announced a proposal to restructure their emergency housing program. Please read more below and click here for the referenced attachment. The deadine to submit feedback is May 8th. DCF Commissioner Ken Schatz and other representatives will be at the May 13th VAHC meeting to discuss the proposal. The Coalition is also seeking feedback from members on the proposal, which can be emailed to

Hello Fellow Housing Partners –

We are writing to let you know that DCF is proposing to restructure its emergency housing program.  Attached to this email is an outline of a proposal to repurpose the money used for hotel vouchers in the GA program to fund community grants to homeless providers across the state.  It sets forth a path to transition from providing emergency housing using motels to using community based services such as low barrier and warming shelters, transitional housing and other services to meet the needs of all homeless individuals and families effective October 1, 2015.

While DCF leadership recognizes this is an ambitious plan and timeframe, we believe it is achievable.  We have heard many concerns from community partners, ESD staff and homeless individuals and families that the current system is not adequately addressing the ever increasing rate of homelessness, nor providing a pathway to stable, permanent housing.  We ask you, our community partners, to help us address the problem of homelessness in our state in a way that matches the needs and capacity in your community while addressing the needs of people regardless of their age, disability or sobriety who require emergency shelter due to homelessness, domestic violence or other factors.

Over the coming weeks DCF will engage our community partners across the state to seek input on the proposal.  An important element to the proposal is seeking legislation to  have the authority should we move forward with this change.

Please feel free to forward this email to your housing partners and to review the attached document and respond with comments, questions and suggestions by May 8th via email (see addresses and instructions below).  Or, if you prefer, please bring your questions to your next Continuum of Care or Housing meeting as we will be visiting local meetings in the upcoming weeks.

Thank you,
AHS Secretary Hal Cohen and DCF Commissioner Ken Schatz

Should you decide to email your questions or input, please feel free to direct it to with “Emergency Housing Initiative” in the subject line:

Sean Brown, Deputy Commissioner Economic Services Division –
Paul Dragon, Director of DCF’s Office of Economic Opportunity –
Karen Vastine, Principal Assistant to Commissioner Schatz –


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.


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