Last year the Department for Children and Families spent just over a million dollars providing vouchers for the ‘cold weather exception’ program and applications for help are up. DCF points to stats from the start of the winter season last year when nearly 3,100 adults and 550 kids used vouchers. That’s up from about 1,850 adults and 225 kids during the same period in 2013. DCF officials say the rise of using these vouchers is because of the increase in homelessness and the cost of living in Vermont. They tout screening measures aimed to cut down on program abuse. “If we have some concerns that there are some inaccuracies or there’s something missing we have a process in place we’re we verify that information before either granting or denying that application,” said Sean Brown, DCF. Organizations like COTS and Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity are working to help with the high demand for shelter. CVOEO is hoping to have the Ethan Allen Club in Burlington open by Feb. 9 as a temporary shelter this winter. That building would house up to 20 people at night, but when there’s no room at the shelters, CVOEO and COTS use the state voucher program. “I don’t think anybody believes that spending $40 or $50 or $70 a night on a motel is a great investment. But until we have the alternative emergency options available you can’t really pull that out,” said Rita Markley, COTS executive director. Because of the large increase in families with children using vouchers, DCF says they’re bringing it to the attention of the state Legislature, hoping to work on the issue.
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