Homelessness has become more widespread in Montpelier, and as a countermeasure, the City Council is exploring a policy to de-criminalize camping on public property.

The proposed policy would lay out criteria to define ‘high-sensitivity’ areas of public land. If city employees find an encampment within those areas, they’d ask everyone in the encampment to move. Everyone in the encampment would also be connected with available overnight shelters at no charge.

“It’s not something where we’re going to list and put a sign up — ‘this is a high-sensitivity area right here in this meadow’ — it’s more a criterion for city staff,” Councilor Dan Richardson said. “Because in looking at this, I came to the conclusion that its best function is to give city staff priorities.”

“I do think this is an important part (of addressing homelessness), but it’s not enough,” Mayor Anne Watson said. “So, we’ll probably take this up again in September.”

This comes in response to a 2018 federal appeals court decision involving the city of Boise, Idaho. The court ruled that cities can’t enforce anti-camping ordinances if they don’t have enough shelter beds to serve their homeless residents.