Tuesday, March 21, 2017

As funding panic washes over us.

March 22, 2017

The Vermont State Legislature is considering whether to reduce funding for the Cold Weather Exception, and share what remains into the General Assistance Fund. I wrote this letter to the legislators who are considering this bill.

We are all in for some shocks, and the proposal to close a budget gap by reducing funds to the Cold weather exception program is a shock to me.
I work directly with people who are using the cold weather exception. I try to imagine them being outside when the weather is below zero, and the image devastates me.

On Saturday morning this week, I spoke to a man who, because he was "late" to claim his CWE room at Harbor Place, spent the night sitting upright in the lobby of the Burlington Police station. I can imagine people heading to the emergency room to sit out the night. Already, people are sleeping in ATM lobbies, where they can get in. Some, intrepid and feeling uncared for, continue to sleep in tents outdoors, or without tents with as many sleeping bags as can be rounded up. Some, not intrepid but truly desperate, subject themselves to a violent boyfriend.

The Trump era is not Trump's making. The financial stress, promised to us as Conservatives, finally in charge of the purse strings after fighting the New Deal for 80 years, rewrite the social policy priorities of our country, will destroy many of the gains against poverty we have made, and leave many tens of thousands of, or a hundred thousand, Vermonters in a Social-Darwinist gutter. I can't bring myself to create in my mind the picture of what we are contemplating.

You have a choice now to steer a new direction. Are we going to design a state that adheres to the motto, "Freedom and Unity"? In which we take care of each other? Or are we going to collapse into the conservative idea of each individual, with what resources they have, for themselves?

There is plenty of wealth in this country, and there is plenty of wealth in Vermont. The challenges faced by the middle class are the challenges of people desperately trying stay out of the impoverished class. When we demand more from the wealthy, we also improve conditions for the middle class. I have a long list of strategies to capture wealth for the benefit of the society and community of Vermont. Failure to attempt any, and take the funds away from the poorest and most vulnerable, is just a concession to the upward migration of wealth into the hoards of those who do not truly need that wealth. You have a choice. The choice to take money from the vulnerable is the choice to perpetuate the downward spiral to economic collapse and the end of American democracy.

Please do not make that choice. Begin by refusing to defund CWE, and continue by rewriting the agenda for the State of Vermont. We can do better.

Stephen Marshall, Homeless Advocate at the Chittenden County Homeless Alliance.

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