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Vermont extends a homeless program but not before some were evicted


Vermont has extended a pandemic-era program that pays for motel rooms for homeless people. But that decision came too late for hundreds who had already been evicted. As Mikaela Lefrak with Vermont Public reports, many of them have ended up living in tents.

MIKAELA LEFRAK, BYLINE: A woman named Tam stands on the porch of a community center in Montpelier, Vt. The center serves people experiencing homelessness. And, since June 1, that includes her. She wears a backpack with all her belongings in it, and every night, she pitches a tent.

TAM: I've got, like, various campsites around here. Like, I move every day.

LEFRAK: Tam is one of about 800 Vermonters who were evicted from their motel rooms at the beginning of June. She experienced some threats of violence from her neighbors at the motel, which is why we're only using her first name. Despite those challenges, she calls her motel room a lifeline.

TAM: It got us out of the cold. I think we're all grateful for the program. It just would have been really nice if it would have helped us transition into something a little more permanent.

LEFRAK: During the pandemic, the state dramatically scaled up the motel program with the help of federal COVID relief dollars to meet a new level of need. But those funds ran out, and the state began evicting people. The reality of Vermont's affordable housing shortage came into stark relief. Most shelters were already full. Aid organizations began handing out free tents to people like Tam. Others, like Colby Lynch, left the state. She moved in with family in New Hampshire.

COLBY LYNCH: I'm just thankful that my mom is able to take me in, and I'm not sleeping in a car.

LEFRAK: Lynch had a job at a bowling alley, and she'd been searching for months for a place to rent with no luck. The day of her eviction, it was 90 degrees. As she drove away, she saw many of her former neighbors sitting on the curb with nowhere else to go.

LYNCH: They didn't have vehicles. They were literally out there on the curb with their stuff.

LEFRAK: A second wave of evictions was scheduled for July. It would affect another 2,000 or so people, including children and people with serious medical issues. Rick DeAngelis is the executive director of Good Samaritan Haven. They operate three shelters in central Vermont, all full. DeAngelis says he and other advocates for the unhoused tried to sound the alarm to state lawmakers, pushing them to extend the program a bit longer.

RICK DEANGLELIS: I'm hoping that this is one of those turning points. I don't know, maybe that's just looking at it through rose-colored glasses or something, but I'm hopeful of that.

LEFRAK: Vermont's Democratically controlled legislature and Republican governor agreed to extend the motel program for about another year. Senate Majority Leader Alison Clarkson helped push it through.

ALISON CLARKSON: It became apparent that the transition plan was not in place and that to continue the emergency pandemic plan was the wisest move to give everybody an opportunity to develop the housing alternatives that we needed to house the 1,800 remaining unsheltered Vermonters.

LEFRAK: Still, the 800 or so people who were already evicted likely won't be getting their rooms back. A month after her eviction, Tam in Montpelier is still wondering how she ended up living in a tent.

TAM: For all the years prior to COVID, I never had a problem with paying the rent. It just seems like after COVID that this has happened to me. I don't know, and I'm just hoping it changes at some point. So, yeah, maybe I had some attitudes about homeless people until I actually lost my home.

LEFRAK: She has plans to take a bus to a Vermont ski town to see if any of the resorts there have cleaning jobs. She's heard that sometimes those gigs come with a room.

For NPR News, I'm Mikaela Lefrak.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Mikaela Lefrak is WAMU’s Arts and Culture reporter. Before moving into that role, she worked as WAMU’s news producer for Morning Edition.