Hundreds of Vermonters homeless in Chittenden county have found refuge from the pandemic in hotels that have been converted into shelters.
But one of these operations is closing its doors.
The South Burlington Holiday Inn will end a partnership with the state government on June 30th to begin renovations. The move could displace 125 people now housed at the hotel, said Dave Gundersen, emergency shelter program director at the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity, which oversees the operations of the Holiday Inn.
Two motels in the Middlebury area are also ending partnerships with the state, said Sean Brown, commissioner for the Department of Children and Families, which oversees the motel program.
The state is forecasting a loss of 250 beds, Brown said. There are currently 2,595 people in 1,970 hotel rooms across the state.
Gundersen said the state had funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to keep the hotel program going through September. When the pandemic hit, the state expanded emergency shelter vouchers for Vermonters who needed a room to isolate themselves from the Covid-19 pandemic outside of the shelters.
People who have relied on the South Burlington Holiday Inn for shelter are looking for their next home.
Jeff Flores has lived at the Holiday Inn since June. He has several health problems that have kept him from work and he has tried to secure disability benefits.
“I was devastated because I’m still trying to find a place to stay,” said Flores when management told him he would lose his hotel room by June 30th. He said he submitted paperwork for a government housing voucher, but there may not be enough affordable units available.
“I hope and pray that at least that will open the door,” said Flores. “Because if it isn’t like that, I’m shitty.”
The staff at the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity are working with Flores to find accommodation before the Holiday Inn closes.
Larkin Hospitality, which operates a number of hotels across the state, owns the Holiday Inn. Joe Larkin, the company’s CFO, said in an email to VTDigger, “It has always been the hope and intent of this partnership to be a short-term solution to the Covid-19 crisis.”
“Given Vermont’s progress in vaccine distribution and the belief that tourism and business travel will return to Vermont, we look forward to using this property again as a pre-Covid-19 hotel,” Larkin wrote.
Gundersen said Larkin Hospitality has been a “great and patient” partner with the state.
The state’s coronavirus relief package could fund rent back and housing vouchers through the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity, he said.
However, given Chittenden County’s tight housing market, the money could be used for more creative solutions, such as buying RVs for temporary living or paying for families and friends who let people without homes surf the couch with them.
“We’re trying to bring together the resources that will allow people to get somewhere. Ideally no tent, ”said Gundersen. “I hope it doesn’t happen, but I think one of the consequences would be an expansion of the camps in the Burlington area. They were pretty rare in the population, but from what I’ve heard, they have already started expanding a bit more. “
With the end of the hotel partnerships, the state must decide whether and how the hotel voucher program will continue after the end of the pandemic. The state wants to set up a working group to make a recommendation, Brown said. This project is part of the budget proposal for 2022, which the House approved and sent to the Senate.
Looking back on the year-long hotel program, Gundersen said that single rooms with on-site service at hotels helped Vermonters escape homelessness.
“What we did in the pandemic is move people into a more respectful environment where they can have their own space,” Gundersen said. “We can mitigate many things that happen when people work through the trauma they have experienced and are experiencing of being homeless.”
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