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Annual Homelessness Awareness Day a Success

On January 16th, 2019, homelessness and affordable housing advocates headed to the State House in Montpelier for our annual Homelessness Awareness Day.

 The day started bright and early at 7:30, with information from the Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition (VAHC), VAHC’s Voices of Home story-sharing project, the Vermont Coalition to End Homelessness (VCEH), the Committee on Temporary Shelter (COTS), and several other organizations on full display in the Card Room.

Advocates sponsored coffee and muffins in the morning and asked lawmakers to keep Vermonters without homes in their thoughts today. Some even adorned VCEH stickers to show their support, while others asked key questions about homelessness and housing on behalf of their constituents. Overall, we were pleased that so many folks pledged to think of homeless Vermonters on that day.

After the hustle and bustle of the morning, we settled into two committees: a joint hearing of Senate Economic Development, Housing & General Affairs and Senate Health & Welfare followed by another joint hearing of House General, Housing & Military Affairs and House Human Services. In these committees, we heard testimony from many of Vermont’s leading experts on housing and homelessness and gave legislators a snapshot of the state of homelessness in Vermont. A short list of witnesses can be found here. Some of the testimony and background materials can be found here. We were so excited to see that every legislator in the room was present and asked a ton of useful, insightful questions and agreed to continue to seek information about these causes. Especially powerful and moving was testimony from several Vermonters with lived experience with homelessness.

Concurrently, Vermont Legal Aid held a press conference on their new, first-of-its-kind evictions report for the state of Vermont. The press conference was a great opportunity for legal advocates to articulate the line between evictions and homelessness, especially since so many Vermonters are only a paycheck away from falling behind on rent.

After the conclusion of the committees and the press conference, we headed outside to the State House steps to hold a vigil and speak-out to commemorate the thousands of homeless and at-risk Vermonters. We heard from Deputy Secretary of the Agency of Commerce and Community Development Ted Brady, Lt. Governor David Zuckerman, House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe, and Representatives Ann Pugh and Tom Stevens, the chairs of two key committees, as well as several people with lived experience of homelessness.

Afterward, the House unanimously passed a Resolution designating January 16th, 2019 as Homelessness Awareness Day. You can view the text of Resolution H. C. R. 6 here. The passage of the Resolution was a great way to end 2019 Homelessness Awareness Day because it reaffirmed the Legislature’s commitment to ending homelessness in Vermont. Taken together with the joint hearings, we’re excited to see what the legislative session holds for housing and homelessness. We can’t thank our advocates, our legislators, and the public that made this day happen enough.

For video of the rally, see below:

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