‘I don’t see how I can manage’: In Rutland, a motel resident struggles with uncertainty
Susan Ladmer first wrote to a reporter in early June, asking for help.
“I am currently housed in a homeless motel. I am a 77 year old woman who suffered a stroke in December. Despite tremendous efforts to find out where I will be in July, at the end of the emergency housing program, no one can tell me,” she wrote at the time. “Just the stress of trying to find out and of trying to make certain I have somewhere to live is presently life threatening.”
Ladmer would not get clarity until last week. Two days before she was initially set to be booted from a pandemic-era program sheltering homeless people in motels, Gov. Phil Scott signed a measure that gives her and nearly 2,200 other people the option to stay where they are until April. (Participants will need to leave sooner if the state can identify alternate shelter for them.)
That extended help comes with new strings, including the requirement that motel residents begin paying 30% of their incomes toward the cost of their stays. The rule mirrors one that was included in the state’s pre-pandemic shelter program, as well as the federal standard for Section 8 vouchers.
Sen. Jane Kitchel, D-Caledonia, who played a key role in negotiating the new law, argued it’s only fair to ask households to begin paying in.
“There has to be some reciprocity here between the household and their responsibilities and the publicly funded benefit,” she said.
But this latest news, which Ladmer received only days before she was told she would have to pay, has left her panicked and infuriated. She said a state worker calculated that she’ll owe about $300 a month, a third of her monthly Social Security check.
“I’m out of money now. I mean, I’m at the end of the month, and that was with the $300,” she told VTDigger last week. “I don’t see how I can manage without it. I mean — I know I can’t.”
Ladmer noted that those who are eligible for vouchers until April, such as herself, qualified for the help in part because they met certain special criteria. They are elderly, receive federal disability benefits, have children, are pregnant, or are fleeing domestic violence, for example.
The state is “putting the load of handling the motels on the vulnerable people,” she said, “as if that answers the money problem, when the money problem is created by the overpayment to the motels.”
Back when the federal government was picking up the tab for the program, Vermont did, for some time, allow motels to name their price, although state officials later capped the monthly rate at $5,250. The state is now paying for the program, and the latest legislation instructs the Agency of Human Services to negotiate further reduced rates with motels.
But motel owners don’t necessarily have to accept lower rates. Ladmer, on the other hand, is now required to give a third of her income to maintain her shelter. She filed an appeal but predicted it will be an “exercise in futility.”
Ladmer’s road to the Rutland Quality Inn where she now lives with her two dogs has been long and winding. Born in New York, Ladmer once worked as a museum administrator and, later, a horse trainer. But a chronic pain condition called complex regional pain syndrome largely took her out of the workforce in the late 1990s.
She found a doctor who helped her manage the pain through hypnosis, and, after relocating to New Hampshire, tried to find work again. But employers wouldn’t hire her, she said, because her medical condition threatened to spike their insurance premiums.
Struggling to finish paying off her home and property taxes, and seeing no other options, she took out a reverse mortgage — a move she said she knew was a bad deal, even at the time she made it. She tried to supplement her income by selling antiques, but couldn’t make enough, and lost the house.
“I have accomplished things in my life, many things I’m very proud of. And it’s hard now to be stripped of everything,” she said. “I thought I could get out of it.”
Last spring, she moved to Vermont with her dogs, attempting to make it work in an RV on land in Cavendish. But then came the fall’s cooler temperatures, and in November friends insisted she move into a local hotel, where the state was sheltering people experiencing homelessness.
Her initial plan had been to return to the camper after the winter. But it has no running water, no electricity, no sewer hookup, and no cell phone service. Still recovering from a stroke, which struck her in December and hospitalized her for nine days, Ladmer no longer thinks she could survive in the RV.
But neither does she think she can afford what the state wants her to pay. Between car payments, financing on the camper, credit card debt she took on during the move, insurance, and food, all of her money is already budgeted.
“Believe me, I tried every which way to make this thing work out. And as I’m sitting in this situation, I just wish there was some other way to make it work out because I hate this,” she said. “I truly, truly hate this.”
As she spoke to a reporter over the phone, a friend’s husband stopped by to drop off forms she needed to fill out to apply for housing and services. She paused for a moment to begin leafing through the stack of paperwork.
“God. You know, I used to write grant applications for the museum. And I swear they weren’t as involved as these applications are,” she said. “They were for a lot more money, too.”
Read the story on VTDigger here: ‘I don’t see how I can manage’: In Rutland, a motel resident struggles with uncertainty.