‘Houseless’ Crisis Puts Many Vermonters at Risk
Vermont’s long-standing housing crisis, acutely exacerbated by Covid, threatens the mental health and well-being of thousands of residents. That’s because housing security is intimately tied to wellness, mentally as well as physically.
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The relationship goes both ways. While mental health challenges can lead to homelessness, it’s a myth that most homeless people are mentally ill. And certainly, living homeless or in unstable housing impacts mental health in myriad ways, including our ability to take care of ourselves.
As one expert put it in a recent workshop at NAMICon, the mental health conference:
The Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition spelled out the connection in a March 2021 report. “The crisis created by COVID-19 has made it clearer than ever that stable, affordable housing for all is an imperative for public health and individual well-being,” the report says.
Housing Pressures Mounting
The state is facing a perverse kind of perfect storm in housing. For starters, the housing market is dire, with near-zero rental vacancies and inflated pricing all around. Vermont real estate has skyrocketed during Covid. Home ownership is out of reach for many Vermonters. Sparse affordable housing options are likely to get even more limited long before Covid relief money can be used to create more.
The average renter in Vermont pays well more than the accepted 30 percent of income for housing. A worker earning the state’s minimum wage of $11.75 an hour would have to work 64 hours a week to spend 30 percent of their income on a one-bedroom apartment. For a two-bedroom unit, they’d need to work 81 hours weekly. That’s according to a housing study released in July by the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
The state’s reopening marks the end of emergency housing programs that were a lifeline for many thousands of Vermonters. Earlier in July, the state ended its temporary motel/hotel shelters, which housed roughly 2,400 homeless children and adults during Covid. Extensions have been approved for about 1,400 people, including those with children, disabilities, or who are escaping dangerous or life-threatening situations, according to a VT Digger article. In addition, emergency assistance cash up to $2,500 is available. (See resources below to find out how to apply.)
Despite these stopgap efforts, many are left trying to find housing in a rental market with no vacancies. On July 16, the state’s eviction moratorium officially ended, leaving many thousands of low-income renters vulnerable. The CDC’s nationwide eviction moratorium expires July 31.
Housing Insecurity Hits the Most Vulnerable
The end of these safety nets raises immediate concerns of housing insecurity for a broad swath of the state’s most vulnerable residents. Whether it’s due to financial hardship or other barriers, housing insecurity often goes hand in hand with mental health challenges, and it’s easy to see why. Shelter is a basic human need. Losing one’s home — or facing the prospect of it — is a major life stressor.
A recent study found that about half of women facing homelessness or unstable housing had depression and/or anxiety symptoms during the pandemic. This follows a growing line of evidence tracing the complex interactions between one’s housing situation and mental wellness. For children in particular, a stable and secure physical home is critical to healthy social and emotional development.
“Shelter and housing issues are consistently prominent among the concerns our counselors hear from callers to our warm line,” says Alex Karambelas. She is the project director for COVID Support VT, a federally funded program providing mental health counseling and resources for Vermonters. “It’s important that anyone facing housing insecurity understands they’re not alone in this. Support is available.”
Learn More and Find Resources
If you or someone you know is facing the prospect of losing housing, there are a number of resources available that may help.
- Call the COVID Support VT warmline. Dial 2-1-1, option #2, to speak to one of our Support Counselors, who can guide you to appropriate resources.
- Visit Vermont Legal Aid. VLA posts up-to-date information about state housing programs and assistance, as well as legal advice on how to navigate the systems. See COVID-19 Coronavirus: Legal and Benefits Updates for Vermonters.
- Find additional information and resources for rental and mortgage assistance at the following websites: https://erap.vsha.org/ and https://www.vhfa.org/map/covid-map.
- Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition has a website with information about state and federal policies and resources for homeowners, renters, and those who aspire to be. Visit If You Need Housing on the VAHC site.
- The Vermont Coalition to End Homelessness shares updated news, information and resources to prevent homelessness on its website.
- In Chittenden County? The Chittenden Homeless Alliance provides resources and referrals.
- Greg Sukiennik’s article, Report: Vermont housing costs pricing out working poor, parses the problem in the Green Mountain State.
- Homelessness, housing instability and mental health: making the connections, a research article by Deborah Padgett, illuminates the links between well-being and housing.
Need to Talk?
Call 2-1-1 (in Vermont) for assistance.
If you or someone you care for is experiencing thoughts of suicide or self-harm, you can: call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-825; text VT to 741741 to connect with a Crisis Counselor 24/7; connect with your local community mental health center for 24/7 support.
Find resources and tools for coping with stress at www.COVIDSupportVT.org.
Find your local community mental health center by visiting Vermont Care Partners.
COVID Support VT is funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and Federal Emergency Management Agency, managed by Vermont’s Department of Mental Health, and administered by Vermont Care Partners, a statewide network of 16 non-profit community-based agencies providing mental health, substance use, and intellectual and developmental disability services and supports.