Following multiple years of increases in the number of Vermonters reported homeless; data from the 2015 Point-In-Time count showed a small but welcome 2% decrease suggesting the trend may be plateauing. The statewide trend may mask regional differences. Chittenden County witnessed the most significant decrease in homelessness while most other Vermont counties saw modest increases. While no single measure of homelessness purports 100% accuracy, the Point-In-Time count uses standard definitions developed by HUD and constitutes Vermont’s best proxy measure at this time. (Note that count methodology evolved in 2013 and it is likely that the true extent of homelessness in Vermont was higher than officially reported prior to that time.)
Homelessness remains a challenging problem in Vermont as families and individuals with extremely low incomes encounter a three-fold problem of an extremely tight rental market, increased competition for rental subsidies, and histories or behaviors that often warrant additional customized services for a housing placement to be successful.
According to a 2015-2020 Housing Needs Assessment, Vermont’s statewide rental vacancy rate is hovering close to 1%. A Housing market is considered balanced and healthy when vacancy remains between 4% and 6%. The extreme scarcity of available rental units drives up prices as it drives down opportunity for people in emergency shelter. This leads to longer shelter stays which fills shelters to capacity and pushes people in crisis to motels or warming shelters.
Sequestration of federal funding in 2013 reduced Vermont’s share of HUD Section 8 rental assistance by over $6 million dollars. This represented the equivalent of critical rental subsidy assistance for over 900 Vermont households. The Agency of Human Services has used state funds to address some of this shortage through innovative programs such as the Vermont Rental Subsidy Program but cannot completely offset such a significant reduction in rental assistance for struggling Vermonters.
AHS is currently using this tool to assess our agency contribution to reducing homelessness in Vermont. One Agency cannot turn the curve alone; there are many partners who have a role to play making a difference.
Updated in September, 2015