On September 24, homelessness advocates gathered outside the gubernatorial debate in Burlington to demand a $500,000 emergency appropriation from the state. Three directors of overcrowded homeless shelters said the money, which could come from the state's $60 million "Rainy Day" fund, would lessen the impact of this winter's impending homelessness crisis. Gubernatorial hopefuls Gaye Symington and Anthony Pollina showed up and pledged their support; Gov. Jim Douglas used a different entrance.
Ten days later, Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin (D-Windham) was in Montpelier asking the Joint Fiscal Office for $500,000. The money, according to homeless shelter directors, could be used to buy food and heating fuel for emergency shelters — i.e., churches, community centers and other civic spaces that will house homeless Vermonters who don't fit in overcrowded shelters.
"My guess is the $500,000 is a small step forward, but it won't be the entire solution," Shumlin explained. JFO has tabled the request until early November. In the meantime, Shumlin says he will consult with shelter directors.
Shumlin added that, although Vermont's Congressional delegation has successfully lobbied for additional "LIHEAP" heating-assistance funding, neither the state nor the federal government have "adequately adjusted" for the hardship that will soon affect low-income and middle-class Vermonters.
"We shouldn't underestimate the need," Shumlin said. "It's going to be enormous."