People ask my opinion on the motel situation in Vermont. For those not familiar, during the pandemic, Vermont sheltered folks experiencing homelessness in local motels. Federal funds made this possible. As federal funds dwindle, the question of what to do about the motel program has been the focus of many.
Since I am in the business of ending homelessness, it makes sense that people would ask me what I think. I am not, however, an expert on shelters or transitional housing.
What I am an expert on is permanently ending homelessness for individuals and families.
Vermont also has expertise in permanently ending homelessness. In 2009, the Vermont Department of Mental Health collaborated on a five-year federal grant to bring the evidence-based practice of Housing First to Vermont. Since then, my organization, Pathways Vermont, has been ending homelessness for individuals and families non-stop. Well, at least as much as we are funded to do so.
Pathways cannot end poverty, racism, or the housing crisis. We cannot obliterate the opioid epidemic or mental health challenges. What we can do, person by person, family by family, is end their bout with homelessness and provide them with wrap-around services tailored to their individual needs.
Pathways has an 85% retention rate– meaning 85% of folks stay housed and don’t return to homelessness. For those not familiar with retention rates, that is an incredibly high percentage.
We are experts at permanently ending homelessness for individuals and families.
We want to do more.
The 2023 Point-in-Time Count, a report released in June by the Chittenden County Homeless Alliance and the Vermont Coalition to End Homelessness, showed that, statewide, this year’s count registered 3,295 people experiencing homelessness, an 18.5% increase over the prior year.
When the Vermont Agency of Human Services put out a call for funding ideas, we submitted this letter. We asked for more money to expand our Housing First teams around the state.
We offered a few options, including the one that makes the most sense to me — an expansion of Pathways’ permanent supportive housing into every Agency of Human Services District in the state, as well as strategically expanded capacity in existing communities to address unmet needs. This would cost just under six million dollars.
I am going to answer the top three questions I invariably get, in case you may have them, too:
- Since the housing market is so bad, how will you be able to find units?
It is true that the housing market is awful, and it is taking us longer to find units for the folks we work with, but we do find units. We have a network of over 150 landlords around the state that partner with us, as well as partnerships with local housing trusts and housing authorities. In the past year, we housed 138 people in our Housing First program.
- There are so many open positions in human services; how could you expand services?
Pathways has also struggled with staff shortages, but our shortages are not nearly as bad as most other agencies. We have a highly dedicated, mission-driven team that is laser-focused on ending homelessness. Once you have witnessed a person who has experienced homelessness take their new key and open the door to their new apartment — there is no greater joy and relief for both the new tenant and the staff involved in manifesting that particular miracle.
- If your program is so good, why is there still homelessness?
Ending homelessness (and keeping folks housed) is a three-legged stool. One leg is apartments, one leg is a rental subsidy, and the third leg is the support services needed to assist people with a variety of complicated life challenges. We are very good at ending homelessness on an individual level. We need to scale the resources in the 3 legged stool to meet the need.
What do I think about the motel situation? I think we need to invest our state dollars in permanent solutions: affordable housing, and bring Pathways Housing First permanent supported housing services to scale for Vermont.