RANDOLPH–The new Department for Children and Families commissioner Ken Schatz says he wants to scrutinize, and possibly change, the state’s practice of temporarily housing homeless people in motels. Gov. Peter Shumlin defended the same program an hour later.
Schatz told housing advocates at the annual meeting of the Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition in Randolph Tuesday, Sept. 9, that he has heard nothing good about the motel program. Shumlin appointed Schatz as commissioner on Sept. 8 after former commissioner Dave Yacovone resigned to take another job.
“It is clearly not a good program, as far as I can tell, to be putting people in motels,” said Schatz.
The governor said the administration has taken a beating from the legislature over the motel vouchers and has defended the program. Shumlin recalled when two Vermonters froze to death several months after he became governor in 2011.
“When you’re in crisis and you don’t have the permanent housing, you’ve got two choices: freeze in the streets or open up the motel rooms. I vote open up the motel rooms,” Shumlin said.
Despite their different opinions, Schatz and Shumlin agreed that people need both short-term places to stay as well as more access to permanent housing.
DCF’s $11 million General Assistance program provides a variety of emergency services, including vouchers for up to 84 days in local motels, depending on the circumstances, to homeless Vermonters. The state from January to June this year paid for 14,752 nights in motels at an average of $60 per night.
Schatz said reducing homelessness will be a focus under his leadership. He said he will consider the overall goal of the General Assistance program and how it should ideally function. Emergency housing is important, he said, but the state needs a better program.
By Laura Krantz, VTDigger.org