BERRLIN, Vt. — Off the side of a busy road is a humble motel that has been remodeled to fit a growing need similar to that seen in communities across the country.
This is the only empty room at this shelter owned by Good Samaritan Haven in Central Vermont and it will only be empty for another hour as someone who needs shelter is moving in. The goal here is to move people out into permanent housing, but that permanent housing is getting harder to find. Some are waiting months to a year for the next available housing.
"There's a big bottleneck of housing options so that that leaves people to whether they might be ready or not to move on. The housing options might not be there. They simply aren't there," said Julie Bond, the co-executive director of the organization.
This area right outside the state’s capital is feeling the crush of a lack of available housing and the intense need to house people. Co-executive directors Julie Bond and Rick DeAngelis say they have been scrambling to help 100% more people than they were serving in 2019.
"I'm not even sure I can tell you why, except that there is a rental house in crisis in Vermont and that together with other factors has left a lot of people in a tough spot," said Rick.
With American Rescue Plan money, the state has been able to afford to take people out of congregate shelters and into motels and hotels, along with other rental and emergency assistance, which helped greatly but that money from the one-time federal payment will be spent in the spring.
"There will be some percentage of the folks who are in motels that will stay there with state assistance, but I am expecting that the lion's share will be, it'll just be over and they'll have to find, um, some other place to live," said Rick.
After skipping a year due to the pandemic, the latest point-in-time data from HUD shows 582,462 people were homeless in 2022, a .3% increase since 2020, however, the number of unsheltered people jumped almost 4%.
Although the ARPA funds are drying up, there is hope for more aid.
In December, the Biden administration announced the ‘All In Federal Strategy to End Homelessness” which hopes to reduce the number of unhoused people 25% by 2025, with an emphasis on “housing first” policies. The omnibus spending package also includes $6.4 billion for HUD than the year before to address housing.
"My hope is that as a state, we are coming together for more affordable housing options that are, that are creative, that are quick, that are things that are going to, to help in the, to stave off the immediacy of the need," said Julie.
While these long-term plans fall into place at the federal level, Rick and Julie say they’re still running out of time to fit the needs of today.
They are hoping for more action on local levels to address housing needs more efficiently; programs like home sharing or people using their short-term rentals for long-term homes are a couple of solutions they want to see.
"Is there a way to shift from a profit-minded space to a compassion and heart-centered need-based economy right now? You know, that's the, that's the hope," Julie said.
Big federal plans are a good thing, they tell me. But to address the day-to-day realities they see, actions at this point are necessary to continue the good they still need to do.
"We're just not meeting the need enough. There are so many people suffering with substance abuse and mental health issues. We provide a very basic service here, and I wish we could be providing more," said Rick.