Dragon-Minter-O’Farrell: We can end child homelessness now

This commentary is from Paul Dragon, executive director of the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity; Sue Minter, CEO of Capstone; Jenna O’Farrell, executive director of Northeast Kingdom Community Action; and with support from Southeastern Vermont Community Action.

For those of us who have met homeless children, witnessed their anxiety, curiosity, hope and laughter, we know we must do more.

The good news is that we can. With a relatively modest strategic investment, we can solve child homelessness in Vermont and make episodes of child homelessness rare and brief.

According to the Human Services Agency, there are more than 400 homeless families across the state, including more than 550 children. These children are living in hotels funded by the state’s Emergency Housing Program, in hotels funded by the General Assistance Emergency Housing Program, or in homeless shelters across the state. There are also sometimes families living in their cars or other places not intended for human habitation.

We can immediately invest in rental supports and family-centric services to address child homelessness. This investment would coincide with recent efforts by the Governor Scott administration to increase affordable housing in the coming years. Our state partners and non-profit partners have gone to great lengths to shelter people during the pandemic, even as the number of homeless is rapidly growing.

The focus on ending child homelessness is especially urgent with the end of pandemic relief funds, with many people, including the approximately 270 families with children, needing to leave the state’s transitional housing program at the end of March. The time to make that investment is now.

Solving all homelessness needs to be a priority and solving child homelessness should be seen as part of that effort as well as something that can be achieved in the short term.

Addressing child homelessness is a preemptive investment and part of the long-term solution to solving all street problems. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, when compared to low-income families, homeless children:

  • They have higher levels of emotional and behavioral problems.
  • They are at greater risk of serious health problems.
  • They are more likely to experience separation from their families.
  • They are more likely to experience more school mobility, repeat a grade, be expelled or drop out of school, and have lower academic performance.
  • They are more likely to experience homelessness as adults.

Addressing child homelessness will help break the generational cycle of poverty, lessen the risk of homelessness in the future, save state and federal money in the long run, and help build a stronger economic workforce and social future for Vermont .

We can address child homelessness by creating and sustaining a rapid resettlement program with support services for families with homeless children. This term, the Legislature may include $5.1 million in the Budget Adjustment Act for rent subsidies. We were recently notified that $3 million has been allocated in the Budget Adjustment Act, which is a good start and much appreciated.

These subsidies would create temporary housing vouchers for people to pay 30% of their income towards housing. Vouchers would last up to 18 months while families would increase stability and income, and move to a permanent federal subsidy if needed.

The program would need an additional $3.4 million in 2024 to support the voucher program to reach approximately 400 families in total, and an additional $1.7 million each year thereafter to continue to house the approximately 70 families who remain homeless each year.

In addition to rent subsidies, we are able to secure coordinated services for homeless families by allocating an additional $1.5 million per year to 15 child homelessness coordinators across the state. There are strong family homeless initiatives and models such as the Family Support Housing Program at the Agency for Human Services that can be leveraged as a vehicle to end child homelessness with the possibility of leveraging federal Medicaid dollars.

Coordinators will work to organize and streamline services across existing providers and maximize diverse organizational resources. Most families are currently linked to other services. However, these services tend to be delivered in isolation and are rarely coordinated and sustained or focused on housing.

Families with street children need greater coordination of services as they transition to safe housing and should be followed up with landlord contact, education, mediation and other prevention supports to ensure they remain housed, especially during the first year.

We understand that everyone deserves a home. To that end, let’s revisit Vermont’s roadmap to end homelessness, reconvene the Vermont Homelessness Council and Child Poverty Council, and take the critical first actionable step for Vermont, putting all of our children at home. Please join us in our effort to address child homelessness in Vermont.

Dragon-Minter-O’Farrell: We can end child homelessness now

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Scroll to top