Legal Aid, Vermont give 14 days to those facing hotel loss
MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — The state and Vermont Legal Aid are giving people who are facing a loss of emergency hotel rooms 14 days to show they can remain eligible for emergency housing, officials said Wednesday.
The agreement, signed Wednesday by U.S. District Court Judge Christina Reiss, came a day after Legal Aid sued the state over the end of the emergency program set up to help the homeless during the pandemic.
The program was to have stricter eligibility requirements starting Thursday about who will be able to stay in state-supplied hotel rooms.
Current beneficiaries may still choose a $2,500 one-time payment.
The lawsuit alleges the state’s changes violate Vermont law and have a restrictive definition of what qualifies as a disability. About 700 people could lose their hotel rooms.
“On July 1, hundreds of Vermonters with disabilities will be ousted from their motel shelter to live in vans, barns, campsites, and our city streets,” said Vermont Legal Aid Staff Attorney Mairead O’Reilly. “Our clients are anxious and fearful about what comes next, and our local communities are scrambling to develop the infrastructure necessary to meet the needs of this population.”
O’Reilly said there is a more responsible and lawful way for the state to transition from the pandemic-era emergency housing program, which would exclude a large population of people who also experience substance use disorders and mental health disabilities.
The program has a price tag of more than $100 million. Gov. Phil Scott and other administration officials say the program isn’t sustainable, but the state has expanded housing eligibility from before the pandemic.
“We feel as though we have protections in place, we have taken steps to ensure that people are protected that are coming out of the program,” Scott during the regular Tuesday virus briefing. “It has expanded tremendously since pre-pandemic.”
Human Services Secretary Mike Smith said the state expanded the definition of disability and they are giving homeless Vermonters $2,500 stipends and up to $8,000 for housing assistance.
“We’re not dropping services for people, we’re wrapping services around people to help them in this transition,” he said.
On Wednesday the Vermont Department of Health reported four new cases of the virus that causes COVID-19, bringing the statewide total since the pandemic began to more than 24,400.
There were seven people hospitalized, including two in intensive care.
The number of deaths remains at 256.
The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Vermont did not increase over the past two weeks, going from 6.29 new cases per day on June 14 to 5.00 new cases per day on June 28.