BRATTLEBORO — Planning is underway to coordinate responses to an expected uptick in homelessness in the wake of the emergency motel housing program winding down.
Town Manager John Potter said the General Assistance Emergency Housing Program run by the Vermont Agency of Human Services (AHS) was expanded six times during the COVID-19 pandemic. About 1,800 households currently benefit from the program statewide, including about 220 adults and 52 children who receive vouchers to stay at one of seven hotels in Brattleboro.
“Unfortunately, due to the end of federal and state funding for this expanded program, these payments will no longer be available after May 31 for approximately 80 people,” Potter said at the Select Board meeting Tuesday, where the response plan was unanimously approved.
An additional 34 people who had been at the motels also under vouchers during the Groundworks Collaborative shutdown following the murder of a shelter coordinator by an ax-wielding client also are expected to lose their rooms on May 31. Potter said another 140 to 190 people are at risk of losing their eligibility on June 30, including the 52 children.
A Care Coordination Team formed by AHS is working with those affected by the changes to the program and helping them come up with plans for when they lose eligibility. Town staff also are in communication with the agency and working with organizations to coordinate services.
Potter said the potential impact is unclear.
“But given the numbers of people involved and the uncertainty,” he said, “we believe that it would be worthwhile to take an incident command approach to this, to direct and coordinate efforts of various individual organizations involved as they work towards a common goal of stabilizing multi-hazard impact to protect lives and property and the environment.”
Potter said teams being established to address responses include representatives from Groundworks, AHS, the Vermont Department of Health, Brattleboro Memorial Hospital, Health Care and Rehabilitation Services, Windham Regional Commission, Downtown Brattleboro Alliance and the faith community. Additional stakeholders are being identified and invited to participate.
Town staff plan to bring regular updates to the Select Board about how things are going.
“One significant concern is the possibility of expanded tent encampments, which can lead to challenging sanitary, public health, public safety and aesthetic concerns, especially with garbage and untreated waste spreading across significant areas,” Potter said. “Staff will be putting together procedures and resources within our available budgets to address major problems.”
Potter said the plan includes no “incident commander.”
“We do realize that we need to be communicating and understanding what various portions of the community are seeing, about what’s happening out there and how we are all understanding the potential impacts together, and then just finding our best pathway forward to address those as we possibly can by who has an ability to help in one area versus another,” he said. “There are no right answers here and we don’t truly know what to expect.”
Board member Elizabeth McLoughlin thanked Potter “for being proactive.”
“Hopefully, there can be meaningful solutions among the people who communicate,” she said.
Board member Peter “Fish” Case said the community needs to be patient as issues are corrected.
Bob Oeser of Brattleboro noted the plan’s “non-involvement approach that avoids criminalizing the status of people experiencing homelessness.”
“I think that’s a very important part of that memo,” he said.