Tell the Gov: Fund unconditional emergency housing in Vermont

A version of this commentary by ACLU of Vermont executive director James Lyall was published in VTDigger and other outlets.

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.

The Scott administration has forcibly unsheltered roughly 500 Vermonters who had been living in emergency motel housing — despite an agreement 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 needlessly rushed, 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 Gov. Phil 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 on March 15.

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 — this manufactured crisis is a policy choice by 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 emergency housing in the meantime. They should urge the governor’s office to reverse course and commit to keeping our neighbors safely sheltered. 

Please contact the governor today and call on him to support unconditional emergency housing for everyone who needs it. Use our easy form to send Governor Scott's office a message today, or call his office at 802-828-3333. 

Take action now.