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Motel Exodus Begins

The aftermath of a mass hotel exodus is seen in this room at the Quality Inn in Barre. Photos by Terry Allen.
About half as many people in Washington County as originally expected were forced to leave their state-funded motel rooms last week as the state’s pandemic-era emergency housing program began shutting down. 

In all, 30 households (or about 40 people) had to leave motel rooms in Washington County on June 1, according to Rick DeAngelis, co-executive director of the Good Samaritan Haven.

The first people leaving motels were originally housed there due to the “extended Adverse Weather Conditions Policy” and will no longer be eligible for housing, according to a May 31 memo to service providers from the Department for Children and Families (DCF) Commissioner Chris Winters and Deputy Commissioner Miranda Gray. “Typically, the policy ends on March 15 each year,” the memo states. “However, this year the legislature extended this date to May 31. DCF expects approximately 690 households to exit the motels by June 1.”

But that’s just the beginning. Three more rounds of motel exits are scheduled between now and September.

In what DeAngelis calls a “four-part wind down” of the motel program, original expectations that 80 people would be ousted from their rooms by June 1 turned into a reality of 40. The remaining 40 are expected to leave by June 15 thanks to a free grace period granted  by the owner of the Hilltop Inn and the Econo Lodge, Anil Sachdev, in a deal brokered by housing policy advocate Brenda Siegel. After that, DeAngelis said in an email to fellow service providers, in Washington County alone another four people will have to leave by July 1; 62 people have until July 29; and another 76 must leave their motel rooms by Sept. 23.

Some households are eligible for 28 days of emergency housing, and some are eligible for 84, according to the DCF website, which means some people have to leave the motels earlier than others.

In a Panic

“Everyone was scurrying around — packing stuff outside their rooms, some had rides, some had cars,” said Rebecca Duprey, a mother of two who has been staying at the Hilltop Inn in Berlin as part of the state motel program. Duprey remains eligible for the motel program through the end of July, she said, so she spent last Thursday “going around to a few of the hotels in Washington County” helping those newly evicted to figure out what to do next.

Rebecca Duprey in front of Berlin’s Hilltop Inn, where she’s been staying as part of the state’s pandemic-era emergency housing program, which began shutting down June 1. Photo by Terry Allen.
One woman in a local motel “was in a great panic,” Duprey said. She’d been ill and had nowhere to go. “She was fearing for her life” at the thought of being homeless and on the street. Duprey and Siegel worked with the motel owner to extend the woman’s stay by a week, for $300. Siegel secured funding for the fee from a local agency, which also had plans to reach out to the woman to help her find a place to land.

“I’ve been experiencing this myself, and I’m an advocate doing what I can to help others going through this Hell,” Duprey said in a telephone interview.

Doing the Best They Can

About 25 service providers and leadership from Montpelier, Barre City, and Berlin have been meeting weekly to prepare for the unprecedented number of people about to be homeless. At last week’s meeting — two days before the first wave of motel exits — the talk ranged from the logistics of providing rides, cooling shelters, food, and camping to concern about those who are sick and elderly or have children.

Street outreach workers for Good Samaritan Haven have been on the streets “24/7/365,” said Amelia Klein, who described herself as the “Good Sam health and safety officer, street outreach worker and community health worker.” 

“We don’t stop,” Klein said. “We take care of our bodies, but we keep going.” Among other things, street outreach workers have been helping people find camping spots, but they’re not saying where. 

Nat Frothingham, a member of the Montpelier Homelessness Task Force (and former editor/publisher of The Bridge), asked if emergency services know how to find those campsites.

“Street outreach knows where those places are and we’re not revealing them for anonymity,” replied Julie Bond, co-executive director of Good Samaritan Haven, also indicating that campsites are known to emergency services in the area. “We’re trying to address the sheer volume of what’s happening,” she added in an interview after the meeting. 

“Everybody’s pitching in here,” said Mary Moulton, executive director of Washington County Mental Health Services (WCMH), referring to the organization’s coordination of food, concerns about high temperatures, and her work seeking storage pods for the belongings and household goods of those who may be camping until they find longer-term housing. She also said that WCMH had arranged for two vans and a truck to help with transportation.

Berlin Town Administrator Vince Conti said the town is working on an encampment policy, “plagiarizing with pride the one [Montpelier] shared with us.” He said the town “continue(s) to look around for places for safe encampments.” (See sidebar.)

Capstone Community Action’s food shelf has increased its supplies for people who are camping, said Alison Calderara, Capstone’s chief of programs and advancement, noting that the food shelf has seen a 75% increase in use in the past year. She also said Capstone has “transportation moneys if someone needs transportation — and we can transport them out of state. If someone has at least a grasp of a plan, we can get them where they need to go.”

DeAngelis told the group that Good Samaritan Haven has requested funding for more motel space and may have as many as 100 beds available, possibly as soon as July 1.

What’s Next

Next week, the process starts all over again when the 40 people who got a reprieve finally have to leave the Hilltop Inn and the Econo Lodge.

“The two week extension … is huge,” said Barre City Manager Nicolas Storellicastro. “Those were the two motels with the greatest number of individuals that had general assistance expire. … Hopefully that gives them enough time to find something a little bit more stable.”

Storellicastro said Barre City has sent a letter of interest to the state proposing using the B.O.R. ice skating rink as an emergency shelter at a rate of $75 per person per day. He said the city is awaiting the state’s response.

In an eight-part tweet on June 2, Siegel summed up her feelings about what many are calling “the motel exodus.” “I just couldn’t tweet after what I saw yesterday,” she wrote. “I cried instead. And cried. And cried. We are moving forward with treating human beings who need us the most in the worst ways.”

Montpelier’s Encampment Policy

On Sept. 22, 2021, the Montpelier City Council approved an “Encampment Response Policy.” According to the city website, the policy can be summarized as follows:

“The City of Montpelier and its staff shall take a general non-involvement approach to any found emergency sleeping campsites, with the particular lens of not criminalizing people creating shelter due to a lack of housing. Staff will intervene and ask encampments to relocate if they are found in “high-sensitivity areas” meeting specific environmental, health, and safety criteria as outlined in this policy. Staff shall offer to connect people sleeping in “high-sensitivity areas” to any available overnight shelters (a public or private shelter, with available overnight space, for an individual experiencing homelessness, at no charge).”

The policy states: “These areas include public facilities where the presence of encampments could disrupt environmentally sensitive areas, city operations, school operations, and/or present a health or safety concern to city staff, school staff, or Montpelier residents using the facilities. They may also be areas that present significant safety concerns for those who are sleeping.”

To read the policy in full, go to montpelier-vt.org/DocumentCenter/View/7751/City-Encampment-Response-Policy-Final-Approved-09222021.


Tips for Surviving Without Shelter

The following is excerpted from “Surviving in the Rough Handbook,” co-authored by two local people who prefer to be known as Noah Bodie (NB; Nobody; street name) and Anonymous: Lived Experience Expert. 

  • “Figure out what is open as well as available both early and late. 
  • “If you have to set up a tent or are without one — do it well off any sidewalks or hiking trails — preferably deep in the woods or bush cover so yuppies running and biking don’t see you and rat you out to the cops. Green and brown or canoe-colored gear that blends in best is ideal.
  • “Sleeping under bridges is not a great plan unless you’re desperate to be out of the rain or snow and you don’t have any other option. The cops will usually find you, and there will often be drinking/drugs/fighting involved in those locations — aka you will very likely be bothered there.
  • “If you have a vehicle you can usually park on a residential side street to blend in. You should move which one you park on every night. You should sleep fully clothed so you can jump up and quickly leave if the cops bother you.
  • “If you do have to sleep outside without good gear, like under a bridge or elsewhere, if at all possible, make sure to use several layers of clothing, blankets and sleeping bags, etc.” 
  • Added note (by NB): “Have also found that layers of cardboard (whether using large thick empty boxes or otherwise several boxes of lesser size and thickness) as well as newspapers (like the weekly World and Seven Days newspapers as well as the daily newspapers) can help provide insulation either underneath a tent, sleeping bag or whatever is being used. . .”