RUTLAND, Vt. (WCAX) – The state of Vermont has vastly expanded support for the homeless since the start of the pandemic and has seen increasing demand for those services. The criteria homeless people must meet to access this kind of shelter have also been relaxed. At its peak, the state used to shelter between 200 and 250 households at any one time. As of Dec. 1, 2020, it is sheltering just over 1,700 households.
“These folks are literally homeless, they have no other place to stay,” said Sean Brown, the commissioner of Vermont’s Department for Children and Families (DCF).
Brown says there is a substantial increase in the number of individuals and families looking for shelter because of the pandemic.
“We relaxed the rules to make sure homeless families stay safe. That they were able to isolate and quarantine themselves. Just as families that were housed, we’ve asked them,” Brown said.
Some 1,989 adults and 405 children are taking shelter in 71 hotels across Vermont. On average, it costs $140,000 a night to house everyone. The state is currently relying on emergency federal funding for the program.
Brown says overall, the hotel program has operated smoothly. But with an eightfold increase in people, many of whom struggle with addiction and mental illness, there have been problems at some of the hotels.
“We’ve been very concerned at the activity at some of the hotels where the sheltering is taking place,” Rutland City Police Commander Matthew Prouty said.
One example is the Quality Inn in Rutland. Since April, Rutland Police have responded to more than 200 calls, including 13 overdoses and a homicide.
Rutland Police are working with DCF to find safer alternatives for families being housed in some of the hotels.
“[DCF] did move several families prior to Thanksgiving to have a little better situation as we deal with behavior that is going on at the Quality,” said Prouty.
Since learning about problems in Rutland, DCF is working with leadership.
“We are making efforts to make sure we are meeting the needs of all the families in that motel and keeping them safe and will continue to do that work not only in Rutland but in other communities where issues may pop up,” said Brown.
“Rutland City is not the only one. I know there are other communities having this, too,” Rutland City Mayor David Allaire said.
Allaire says the Vermont Mayors Coalition will be pitching a new strategy to better house the homeless population to the Legislature this upcoming season.
“The hotels weren’t built for that kind of a population so it begs the question, what can we do better? I think there are better alternatives and we hope to be addressing those in the next few months,” Allaire said.
Commander Prouty tells WCAX the hotels taking part in the program are not reaching out to police regarding any concerns and issues. However, Commissioner Brown says DCF is in constant communication with hotel management. WCAX reached out to Rutland City hotels taking part in the sheltering program, but never heard back from any of them before this story was published.
Copyright 2020 WCAX. All rights reserved.