Vermont Business Magazine - State Treasurer Mike Pieciak hosted a Virtual Policy Forum on Homelessness on Monday. The forum included Vermont housing stakeholders and University of Washington Assistant Professor Gregg Colburn, author of the book "Homelessness is a Housing Problem."
During the forum, Professor Colburn argued the cost and availability of rental housing best explains the rate of homelessness in a given community rather than individual factors like mental illness or generosity of public assistance. He concluded that Vermont’s high median rental cost and low vacancy rate most likely explain why Vermont has one of the highest per capita homelessness rates in the country.
Professor Colburn encouraged communities experiencing high rates of homelessness to increase investments to expand available housing stock, citing the high cost of inaction.
“The crisis of unsheltered homelessness has huge costs on communities, including financial and human costs. A housing first intervention might be $50,000 per year per person, which seems like a lot, but it’s probably taking $40,000 to $50,000 of costs out of the system,” said Professor Colburn. “And so if you’re going to spend that money anyway, why don’t we have people housed and then you have a huge social benefit? Then you have a human benefit of having people housed.”
Treasurer Pieciak stated that Vermont’s shortage of housing is the state’s number one economic issue. “Addressing Vermont’s housing shortage is critical for economic development and job growth, but it’s not just an economic issue. It clearly is exacerbating social issues that we’re experiencing in our state as well. That’s why Vermont has one of the highest rates per capita of homelessness,” said Treasurer Pieciak.
Colburn’s findings were echoed by event panelists Maura Collins, Executive Director of Vermont Housing Finance Authority; Lindsay Mesa, Assistant Director of Pathways Vermont; Jess Graff, Co-Chair of Vermont Coalition to End Homelessness; and Will Eberle, Executive Director of Recovery Vermont.
Also joining the panel was Michael Ruggles, a Vermonter and U.S. veteran who recently experienced homelessness. Ruggles highlighted the need for better engagement between Vermont community members and those experiencing homelessness. “You know everybody on the street is there for a different reason,” said Ruggles. “They're not all drug addicts. For some of them, it's an unfortunate circumstance. If you don't know people then you don't want them in your backyard, so get to know the people and then you may invite them into your backyard.”
You can also watch the full webinar here.