Christopher Curtis, staff attorney at Vermont Legal Aid and co-chair of the Governor’s Council on Pathways from Poverty, has dedicated his life to eradicating poverty. Though he has never held elected office, Curtis has been the force behind many key policy changes made on behalf of low-income Vermonters. [In this recording of an interview that was first broadcast on December 14, 2016], he discusses the final report of the Governor’s Council, his life, and why he keeps fighting for the poor. Whitney Nichols joins the conversation to talk about his experience being homeless in Vermont and his work with Curtis on the Governor’s Poverty Council.
BURLINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont and Vermont Legal Aid are warning city officials that an ordinance criminalizing “quality of life” violations could result in legal challenges.
The City Council approved a resolution on Aug. 28 that calls on its Ordinance Committee to draft a new ordinance that “creates a criminal penalty for repeat offenders” for civil infractions including public intoxication, public urination or littering.
The letter from the two legal groups says that instead of criminalizing minor violations, the city should expend more resources to address the “root causes” of such behavior, which they say are poverty, homelessness, substance abuse and mental illness.
“Our goal was really to tell the city, the choice should be clear, we can either take the easy route to criminalizing petty code violations, or we can actually make the city a safer better place,” said ACLU Staff Attorney Jay Diaz, who has been a vocal critic of the proposed ordinance.
The City Council passed a second ordinance calling on its Public Safety Committee to review existing safety net services in Burlington and work with social service providers to improve their delivery, but supporters of the new criminal penalty maintain it has a role as well.