homeless camp

A blue tarp propped up with tree branches serves as a shelter in a homeless camp on the island in the middle of the Connecticut river with a view of downtown Brattleboro.

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Lightning and thunder shook my hometown of South Burlington for close to a half-hour while rain poured down like a giant waterfall with a visibility of what seemed like zero. When the light flickered on and off, the storm even felt a little thrilling.

Most of us probably know what this is like, and find the few moments of uncertainty a rainstorm holds thrilling and calming all in one. But most of us go through them from the inside out, from our place of privilege in the security of four warm walls and a dry roof over our heads. Not everyone has this opportunity.

What would I have done if I didn’t have a home to shelter under? What if I couldn’t find a place to go? What would I do with wet shoes or clothes?

Homelessness is a word that we hear from time to time. But do most of us truly understand the meaning of that word? To live without four walls and a roof above our head, to not know where your next meal will come from, to not know where you’re going to sleep tonight — these are things most of us will never truly understand. But for some these thoughts go through their mind every single day.

For a short period of time that was all changed.

When COVID-19 began and everyone was forced to stay at home, motels and hotels closed down, opening up space that would become the basis for the motel program, which housed homeless people throughout the pandemic. Now that mandates are starting to lighten up along with traveling restrictions, Gov. Phil Scott shut down the motel program July 1 despite urging from many different groups to continue the program.

Throughout the coronavirus the program housed 2,700 adults and children. Seven hundred of them were forced to move out on July 1 [though a court order in a class action lawsuit delayed that order]. The other 2,000 got an extra two and a half months due to having children or disabilities, but that time is closing in quickly and one month is almost up.

Each person forced out of housing was given a $2,500 check, but how long will it last? Theoretically, many could use it to make a down payment on more permanent housing. There’s only one problem: there is no housing available.

The pandemic has led to many things, mainly a decreased supply of housing due to labor shortages, material shortages, and a shortage of already existing housing on the market. Even if these people had the money for down payments on housing, there is nowhere for them to go.

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However, another good thing to come out of the pandemic was the moratorium on evictions. Many households have experienced low income and difficulty finding work throughout the pandemic. The CDC moratorium has kept many people in housing instead of forcing people out onto the streets.

Sadly, this ban on eviction ended June 15. As soon as it did, many Vermonters were forced out of their homes unless they could qualify for the CDC moratorium, but that will end on July 31.

The pandemic hit everyone hard, but most affected were marginalized and low income people. Is it fair that these people are being kicked out of their homes for something far beyond anyone’s control?

Not only has it been hard for some to find and keep shelter lately, but finding food has been too. Maximum SNAP benefits and the Vermont Everyone Eats program have been helpful, but maximum SNAP benefits can end as soon as the national public health emergency does, or, if the health emergency doesn’t end, on December 31. The Vermont Everyone Eats program, which provides Vermonters with healthy meals, will end September 30 and will be slowing down production up to that date. If we want people to have access to good and healthy food, these programs need to continue.

No one deserves to be living on the streets or unsure of where their next meal will come from. Shelter and food are both basic human needs and rudimentary human rights.

Vermont has often been a leader for the rest of the United States. We were the first to abolish slavery before we were even part of the United States, the first to legalize same-sex marriage, and we had the lowest COVID rates of infection in the continental United States. Let us become the first to eradicate homelessness.

Call your legislators and urge them to call on Governor Scott to extend the motel program, the moratorium on evictions, and all food resource programs. We cannot work on a permanent solution until this temporary one is in place. All of the problems that we have in our world right now are intertwined. As we start to undo one knot, we open up pathways to undoing the others.

If we continue these temporary solutions, eventually we will find our way to a more permanent one that will lead to a better Vermont and a better world.

Grace Marroquin is a rising sophomore at Rice Memorial High School in South Burlington. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Bennington Banner.


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