On March 27, 2024

Governor Scott is forcing people into homelessness 

By James Lyall,

Editor’s note: James Lyall is the executive director of ACLU of Vermont.

The people of Vermont want the best for our neighbors and our communities. Increasingly, those values are being undermined by the senseless actions of our governor.

Last week, the Scott administration forcibly un-sheltered roughly 500 Vermonters who had been living in emergency motel housing—despite the Legislature’s approval of a bill on March 1 that would have kept many of these people housed. 

On March 15, hundreds of people were forced out of their housing while scrambling to complete paperwork attesting to their eligibility to stay. Had the process not been so rushed, needlessly most of these folks–many with disabilities–would not have been displaced at all, because the Legislature had intentionally expanded who could be served by the General Assistance Housing program.   

Make no mistake: This was a calculated, cynical decision by Governor Scott that put many of our most vulnerable neighbors in harm’s way. Despite enacting a mass eviction, the Scott administration claimed it was actually helping unhoused people through the “unprecedented step” of providing four, short-term overnight group shelters for evictees.  

But these barren “shelters” were haphazardly appointed, remotely located, and in one case lacked indoor bathroom facilities. Unsurprisingly, they were barely used; at one location, not a single person showed up.  

VTDigger reported that the state spent approximately $50,000 per night to operate four of these underused facilities, whereas allowing people to remain in the motels, where they had stable housing, would have cost significantly less: roughly $36,000 per night for all the 458 households expected to lose their vouchers last Friday.

Beyond being an affront to human dignity, and a callous response to the needs of unhoused people in our community, the Scott administration’s actions cost Vermont more money—epitomizing the inefficiency and ineptitude of the administration’s response to homelessness in Vermont.

When questioned at a press conference, the governor said merely, “We didn’t have to do anything.” 

When it comes to helping our most vulnerable neighbors, most Vermonters would disagree.  

It should never have come to this—a manufactured crisis is a policy choice by Governor Scott, not an inevitability. It directly undermines the best interests of our communities and the Legislature’s work to expand access to housing and keep people sheltered. It also betrays our shared values of compassionate, responsive government and strong, supportive communities.  

The people of Vermont broadly agree we need humane, long-term solutions to the state’s housing crisis—and continued funding for housing in the meantime. They should urge the governor (802-828-3333) to reverse course, to keeping our neighbors sheltered.

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