BENNINGTON — Due to disruptions brought by the coronavirus pandemic, the state has postponed to 2021 its plan to move away from motels when providing emergency shelter.
The shift from motel vouchers to community-based housing programs was originally scheduled to take place July 1. But because of the pandemic — which hit Vermont in March — the state instead expanded the eligibility for motel vouchers.
The Department for Children and Families, which runs the state’s emergency housing program, told the legislature in a report last month that it focused on the need to provide safe and stable housing to people experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity at a time when health experts advised the public to stay home and stay safe.
“We had to take these drastic steps to keep folks safe during the health crisis,” Geoffrey Pippenger, senior advisor to the department commissioner, said in an interview Thursday.
The department now intends to push through with the emergency housing transition next July 1 — exactly a year from the original schedule.
“The last thing we wanna do now is to make any snap decisions,” Pippenger said, “or do anything that might down the road hurt us or hurt the system of care or hurt Vermonters.”
Under the state’s previous proposal, community-based emergency housing providers would expand their capacity with the help of state grants. DCF said local programs offer a long-term solution to homelessness because they provide not just shelter but social support services that deal with the roots of homelessness.
In accordance with official procedures, the revised transition schedule means DCF will also need to organize new forums to collect public comments.
Hearings held ahead of this year’s expected transition included one in Bennington. At that meeting, several community leaders said the target date of July 1, 2020, was too soon and they asked for more time.
Because the transition proposal needs to be redone for next year, the department would no longer be presenting an official response to this year’s public comments, DCF spokeswoman Luciana DiRuocco said in an email.
Meanwhile, Pippenger said the department remains in touch with local housing partners on the path to moving forward.