Montpelier officials will meet Wednesday night to discuss a court case that allows camping on public land when there isn’t available shelter or housing.
When emergency housing for Vermonters came to an end last month, it left some people with few options for shelter. Susan Merchant says didn’t qualify for pandemic housing. For the last two months, she’s had to live outside.
“It’s hard, especially as a woman,” Merchant said. “There are professional homeless people that choose to live that way, but there are also people that have no idea how to do this.”
Following a federal court case out of Boise, Idaho, homeless people can’t be punished for sleeping on public land when there is insufficient shelter or housing opportunities.
In Montpelier, a policy the city is proposing would establish where camping is and isn’t allowed. City Manager William Fraser said the goal is to create clarity.
“The city’s policy is to really put some guidelines around what already exhibits,” he said. “We think this protects the general public, the homeless people and it protects the city government by making clear where you can and can’t go.”
Some places you can’t sleep are school grounds, near private property or near a public path.
Ken Russell, the chair of the Montpelier homelessness task force said people need basic hygiene needs.
“Someone was just telling me this morning that they don’t have access to a shower,” Russell said. “And they are trying to get a job, and a funny thing, people don’t want to hire a stinky homeless person, she said.”
Many people come to the Transit Center to use the bathroom, but it is closed between 11 and 2:30 p.m. When winter comes, it only makes it harder.
“Winter comes, people freeze to death, people die,” Russell said.
Merchant said they need support.
“It seems like there is a huge lack of communication between the powers that be and the people that are out here,” Merchant said. “Communicate, keep communicating”