Cold Winter Stretches State’s Emergency Housing Budget

VT Digger reports on how demand for emergency housing this winter has increased, particularly amongst families with children, and how this affects the state’s budget for temporary shelter:

A cold winter and greater demand for emergency housing services, especially among families, are straining the state’s safety net housing budget, an official told lawmakers Friday.

The state provides up to 28 days of temporary housing to individuals and families who are homeless if someone is age 65 or older; if they receive Social Security or disability; if they are under age 6; or if they are in the third trimester of pregnancy. There are also ways for specific vulnerable populations, such as disabled veterans or Reach Up recipients, to qualify.

In addition, there is a cold weather exemption that relaxes the eligibility requirements when temperatures drop below 20 degrees, or 32 degrees with snow or freezing rain.

Since July, more than half of temporary housing granted was through the cold weather exemption, despite the fact that no days in October met the criteria. The state has spent more than $855,000 through the exemption this winter.

“That’s getting close to what we spent all of last season, and we still have February, March and some of April to get through,” said Sean Brown, deputy commissioner in charge of the Department for Children and Families Economic Services Division. January was particularly bad, with every night meeting the cold weather requirement in all 14 counties, Brown said.

A lack of space in shelters has increased the number of people the state is putting up in hotels and motels, he said. Requests for housing were up 64 percent through December, and the state provided 50 percent more hotel rooms per night.

The increasing need among families seeking shelter has resulted in a 144 percent rise in the number of children who received housing through the cold weather exemption, which Brown called an “alarming” statistic.

Often space for families in shelters is limited, and many wind up in rooms rented by the state. At the same time, the average cost of hotel and motel lodging for those who can’t find space in shelters has increased from $61 to $70 this fiscal year over last.

The problem is especially bad right now in Barre where space for families in shelters is scarce, and the cost for hotels in the temporary housing program is the highest in the state at $80 per night, Brown said.

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