Gov. Peter Shumlin today announced a range of steps to combat homelessness in Vermont, including directing his Agency of Human Services to implement flexible general assistance eligibility requirements during the harshest weather to ensure that every Vermonter who seeks shelter has a warm, safe place to sleep this winter. In addition, the Governor named Angus Chaney as Agency of Human Services Director of Housing to coordinate these and other housing efforts across the agency.
"We're serious about reducing the number of Vermonters who fall into homelessness," Gov. Shumlin said, noting that the focus will be on preventing homelessness, as well as finding homes or shelter for those who lose their housing. "Let's re-commit ourselves as a State to making sure we can give the most vulnerable among us some better options."
Chaney agreed, adding, "Being without a place to call home can bring with it a sense of shame and a cruel loss of hope. Making real progress in our fight against homelessness will require a renewed resolve; a rejection of the idea that it is somehow acceptable for any Vermonter to have to sleep outdoors because they have no better option."
Among the changes:
* The Governor has asked AHS Secretary Doug Racine to adopt flexible eligibility criteria for this winter's General Assistance Program during the harshest and most dangerous weather.
* The Governor today signed an Executive Order that re-establishes and re-constitutes the Vermont Council on Homelessness. The Council is charged with developing and implementing Vermont's ten year plan to end homelessness.
* Earlier this month, the state launched the Vermont Rental Subsidy Program to help very low-income renters address the housing affordability gap by supporting part of their rent for 12 months. The program also offers case management support and participants work to increase their income through employment or by accessing benefits for which they are eligible. To support sustainability, the program includes an opportunity for some families to transition to federal Section 8 rental subsides - permanently affordable housing.
* AHS is working to get an additional 100 housing vouchers that will help pay for both support services and rental costs for persons with mental illness.
* AHS received an additional $1.7 million in general funds to support homelessness prevention and rapid re-housing programs through the General Assistance program. This funding will continue the important work begun with federal ARRA dollars from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
As AHS Director of Housing, Angus Chaney will coordinate these and other housing efforts across the Agency and with the Agency of Commerce and Community Development. Chaney will chair the Council on Homelessness, and ensure that housing and shelter programs -- and the policies directing them -- are aligned to support positive housing outcomes of safety, stability and affordability.
AHS and groups such as the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, the Vermont Community Development Board, and the Vermont Housing Finance Agency will continue to partner with Vermont's nonprofits to encourage the development of affordable housing, mixed-income housing, and other creative service models that demonstrate their effectiveness at reducing homelessness. Additionally, in partnership with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), New Emergency Solutions Grant funding will be directed to rapidly re-housing families and individuals who become homeless.