VLA is asking the legislature for more funding to address the high demand for services. These are the three top reasons for the request.

1. Maintain Current Staffing: $500,000 to maintain existing staff; build a COLA into the base moving forward commensurate with state employees.

Poverty, Disability, Elder Law Projects lost 30% staff (8.3 FTE) over 5 years. $130,000 (11.6%) increase in health insurance costs. $370,000 due to record high inflation increasing most other expenses 5%, including COLA + step for salary (less than the rate of inflation of 8.3%).

2. Increase Intake and Core Program Capacity: $360,000, for 3 FTE.

Need to address 100% increase in requests for assistance. More complex calls require 200% more time. Intake attorneys provide more advice and consultation, inadequate funds for staff adequate to meet demand at a higher level of service.

3. Foreclosure and Consumer Debt Defense: $450,000 to address next wave.

27.6% of loan modifications in FY22 Q3 did not reduce monthly payments (i), up from 21.8% in FY22 Q2, and 19.2% in FY22 Q1. VHFA projects implementation of a waitlist system for Homeowner Assistance Program in April or May. Mortgage interest rates increased from <3.5% in January to over 7% in October, now around 6.5% for 30 year fixed. Used car prices increased 42.5% from February 2020 to September 2022, (new vehicles are up 6.3% in the last year), while average wages increased at a much slower rate, 7.4%. (ii) Vermont Legal Aid defends the rights of Vermonters

Preventing Illegal Lockouts: An elderly, disabled woman rented a room in a hotel for almost a year to be near her medical providers. This was not temporary housing through the transitional housing program. She had been unable to find affordable housing. When she was unable to pay the full amount of her bill, the hotel locked her out of her room by deactivating her room key. However, because she had been living in the hotel for more than 30 days, she was a tenant and entitled to all of the due process in the Residential Rental Agreements Act— including notice and a court eviction process. We filed a case against the hotel and moved for a TRO which was granted — preventing the tenant from being homeless. She has been actively looking for affordable housing.

Accessing Education for Students with Disabilities: A 15-year-old with a disability had made no progress in school, and struggled to access any classes. The school was not providing a 504 plan and misrepresented to the mother that the plan was expired. We assisted in requesting a special education evaluation, and secured a placement for the student at a private school with disabled and non-disabled peers. Since entering the school, our client has become a published poet, continues to write, is interested in and involved in extracurricular activities for the first time, and is becoming politically involved. His mother shared that she credits our help with saving her son’s life and bringing him back to her.

Restoring Rights: A 21-year-old woman with a developmental disability had guardians who were confiscating her wages, refusing to sign a Section 8 application, and denying consent to register for a vocational education program. VLA secured discharge of the guardians and the assistance of the Office of Public Guardian to help her regain control of her finances and housing. After a year she was ready to be her own guardian, and we filed a stipulation to end her guardianship completely. She lives with her partner and has become a mom!

i.  OCC Mortgage Metrics Report,

ii.  J.P. Morgan, Inflation and the Auto Industry: When Will Car Prices Drop? Available at; Vermont Department of Labor, Economic & Labor Market Information, available at

“No one is un-deserving of housing.”

In February 2023, VLA attorney Rebecca Plummer gave testimony about housing in Vermont. Her testimony was in support of the full funding of emergency housing programs and the Bridges to Housing proposal.

To: Senator Kesha Ram Hinsdale, Chair, and members of Senate Economic Development, Housing & General Affairs Committee and House Committee on General & Housing Committee
From: Rebecca Plummer, Vermont Legal Aid, Inc.
Re: Testimony at Public Hearing on Housing
Date: February 16, 2023

Good evening, my name is Rebecca Plummer.  I’m an attorney at Vermont Legal Aid, and the director of our Medical-Legal Partnership Project.  At Vermont Legal Aid and our sister organization, Legal Services Vermont, we work with people who are being hit hardest by Vermont’s housing crisis – including people going through eviction and people experiencing homelessness.  I have worked most closely in recent years through a partnership with clinics providing medication assisted treatment to people with substance use disorder.  These are people who are trying to turn their lives around and need, more than ever, a stable place to live, but are often very precariously housed or experiencing homelessness.

During the pandemic, Vermont has received critical federal assistance to shelter people experiencing homelessness and avoid an even greater public health crisis, but as we all know, that money is drying up.  At the same time, the housing crisis has exploded.  There is simply no housing to be found.  Vermont led the way in keeping people experiencing homelessness safe during the pandemic.  We’ve done it reactively, but we’ve seen how important it is and how it helps all of us, and we have a chance to plan and do this better.  We cannot return to unsheltered homelessness.  We at Vermont Legal Aid believe that housing is a human right.

The Legislature is working, through the Budget Adjustment Act, on ways to address the impending cliff next month for people who are sheltered in motels.  We appreciate this work, and we urge the Legislature to protect as many people as possible through this fix and not let people fall through the cracks. 

We at Vermont Legal Aid strongly support the Bridges to Housing proposal for the future of emergency housing in Vermont, that was put forth by numerous housing and homelessness advocacy organizations.  That proposal includes creating alternatives to motel-based shelter; investing in affordable housing and in services to support people who need help to remain housed and live independently; fully funding and re-envisioning the GA emergency housing program; and increasing planning and coordination to end homelessness.  We believe that all of these are essential to bringing Vermont through this housing crisis.  We also strongly support a rent rescue program and other measures to prevent evictions that, in a housing market with no vacancies, are a direct vector of homelessness.

I want to focus for a moment on the proposal to fully fund and re-envision the GA emergency housing program.  This administration has repeatedly expressed a desire to end the GA program and has not put forth a plan for emergency housing beyond the federal funding we have now.  As we work with people who are experiencing homelessness and in danger of becoming homeless, we feel a shocking disconnect here.  Yes, investing in housing is essential and urgently needed.  But we cannot pretend that this will happen quickly or that it will end homelessness completely.  We will continue to have people who need emergency housing because of eviction, loss of a job, domestic violence, addiction, fire or flood or condemnation of a building, lead paint or mold or rodent infestation, lack of heat or water.  And we need a robust, humane emergency housing program for our neighbors who find themselves in these situations – a program that protects them when they need a safe place to stay and helps them to find new permanent housing as soon as possible. 

Thank you very much for your time and your work for Vermonters.

To: Senator Jane Kitchel, Chair, and members of Senate Appropriations Committee, and Representative Diane Lanpher, Chair, and members of House Appropriations Committee
From: Rebecca Plummer, Vermont Legal Aid, Inc.
Re: Testimony at Joint Hearing on Appropriations
Date: February 21, 2023

Good afternoon, my name is Rebecca Plummer.  I’m an attorney at Vermont Legal Aid, and the director of our Medical-Legal Partnership Project.  I’m here to ask you to fully fund emergency housing.  One of our partnerships has been with clinics providing medication assisted treatment, like methadone and suboxone, to people with addiction.  Because of their addiction, these people have often lost family, friends, custody of their children, jobs, and their health.  They are trying desperately to stay in treatment and turn their lives around.  They need, more than ever, a stable place to live, but instead they are often precariously housed or unsheltered.

When a person in treatment has no safe, reliable place to stay, they also cannot stay connected with health care providers to attend to other serious health needs.  And living on the street itself creates and exacerbates health crises.

One of our clients last fall had a heart condition that caused her to pass out frequently.  She was living in a tent in a wooded public space and was concerned about her safety and her ability to call for help if her phone died and she had no way to recharge it.  Another client had significant fluid in her legs that made walking extremely painful, and walking made the condition itself worse.  But she was unsheltered and had to walk a lot - to the clinic for treatment, to the Economic Services office to apply for emergency housing, to Social Security to check on the status of her lost SSI check.  She was losing ground on hard-fought gains in her sobriety and her health.  Because of their homelessness, when these people finally receive medical care, it is long past prevention or even treatment.  It’s a life-threatening emergency.

Homelessness – through interruption of care and through its own damage to the human body and mind – has significant health harms, and the externalized costs of this are passed on to our Medicaid program.  Indeed, it likely costs the state a lot more to not adequately fund emergency housing than to fund it.

The reality is that it is not possible to add enough shelter capacity (physical space plus staffing) or permanent units for people to exit homelessness in a year.  The people we work with who are struggling to maintain treatment for addiction are the most likely to end up (or stay) unsheltered if we fail to adequately fund emergency housing, and they are generally not covered by current proposals for housing voucher programs or by the extension of GA this spring under the current Senate plan in the Budget Adjustment Act.

Vermont currently has a 1% vacancy rate – there is simply nowhere for people who are homeless or being evicted to go.  And even when there is a vacancy, it is not affordable.  According to VHFA, the average rent cost in Vermont has gone from $945 in 2017 to $1400 today – a 48% increase.  At the same time, wage data from the DOL indicates that wages have only risen 7.4% over the course of the pandemic, widening the gap even for those working full-time.

People with substance use disorder who are experiencing homelessness have been hit by two crises not of their own making – the opioid crisis and the housing crisis.  No one is un-deserving of housing.  We as a state must continue working to solve the housing crisis through a variety of approaches.  But in the meantime, I urge you to adequately fund emergency housing to protect our most vulnerable neighbors.

Thank you very much for your time and your work for Vermonters.

This commentary is by Brianna Ghosn, a senior at the University of Vermont, and Ned Smiley, a senior at Champlain College. They volunteered at Vermont Legal Aid in late 2022 to work on an interview project. This commentary is a result of those interviews with Vermonters who are homeless. The homelessness crisis has exploded in Vermont. Since the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been a 133% increase in people experiencing homelessness in Vermont.    Homelessness is a complex and multifaceted issue that goes beyond the individual and takes the community to resolve. To better understand what it would take to end homelessness, we talked with people experiencing homelessness about their perspectives and the support they need. We talked with people connected with several different services in the Burlington area, such as Spectrum Youth Services, Pathways Community Center and the Salvation Army. Throughout the article, we use pseudonyms for individuals in order to disguise and protect their identities.    Many people expressed their need for more available and easily accessible mental health services and social supports.    Kai has been in need of a psychiatrist, yet they have been waiting for months to see one. Kai’s anxiety, depression and other major health issues have worsened during this time.    Jaden struggles to find employment. Jaden suffers from social anxiety and major depressive disorder, yet he still would like to try to work in the community. He feels discriminated against because of the numerous times he has been rejected. Jaden feels that it’s “easier to just lump us on one side.”    There are simply not enough services available to meet the needs, and many of the organizations that support people experiencing homelessness cannot do any more with the resources they have. It is also hard to even find out what services are available.    Marcel, a resident of Burlington, said, “There needs to be more public and spreading of information for all services and supports for individuals who struggle with housing and mental illness.”    Vermont is currently ranked as the fourth most expensive state, with the city of Burlington and South Burlington being the most expensive areas. Marcel recalled his experience working full-time and even overtime with a minimum wage salary. Marcel was still not able to pay his rent.    The high concentration of college students also creates a high demand for housing in Burlington and contributes to unaffordable rent rates. If we are to end homelessness in Vermont, and particularly in Burlington, we need more affordable housing.   Housing is a factor often taken for granted in establishing oneself as a part of the everyday community. Many of the people we talked with expressed how hard it was to feel separated from the community and how they really wanted more connections.    Michael said, “Even just check-ins for general well-being” would be really helpful. Janna stated that “the community needs more support around drug and alcohol treatment.” Jaden states, “For younger and elder support, we need more places like this (Spectrum Youth Services in Burlington).”    But by far the most feedback we got was about the urgent need for more community awareness and support. Shawn stated, “More information on homelessness should be spread throughout the community.” Sawyer said, “Community action is the answer!”    As Burlington continues to grow and change, it is important that we keep our entire community in mind, especially the people who feel alienated and isolated on top of struggling without permanent housing and needing basic support systems. We as a community can come together and end the homelessness crisis.    Burlington has proudly spearheaded important social issues such as LGBTQ rights and the Black Lives Matter movement, and we have amplified voices that were going unheard. We must come together and be the example for how a community can overcome even the most entrenched, rooted social issue of our country. It’s time to let the voices of a growing, ignored and isolated population speak out for their deserved rights as citizens. 

Vermont Legal Aid attorney Rebecca Plummer spoke on Vermont Public radio about the end of the Vermont Emergency Rental Assistance Program (VERAP). “We expect it [rate of evictions] to explode if the state doesn’t take steps to help people in this situation,” she told host Connor Cyrus.

Friday, September 30, 2022, is the last day to apply for VERAP help. For current recipients, many will see reduced assistance and funding that will end soon. Learn more about the timeline. September 30 is also the last day to apply for the Transitional Housing Program.

Vermont Legal Aid is asking the state to add funding and plans to help Vermonters who may end up facing eviction or homelessness when the financial help ends.

If you need advice about your housing situation, visit and contact us.

Judge Peter W. Hall Integrity Award: At the end of April, Eric Avildsen was awarded the first-ever Judge Peter W. Hall Integrity Award from the Young Lawyers Division of the Vermont Bar Association. Judge Hall died of cancer in March 2021 and the award, in addition to honoring Judge Hall, is intended to highlight the critical role of integrity in the legal profession. The award goes to an individual “who exhibits the exceptional characteristics for which Judge Hall was best known: integrity, humility, empathy, good humor, love of Vermont and a steadfast commitment to public service and the rule of law.” At a Young Lawyers Division event, presenters noted that Avildsen received more than 40 letters in support of his nomination for this inaugural award.

  The executive director of Vermont Legal Aid (VLA), Eric Avildsen, will retire at the end of October 2022.

Avildsen has been executive director since 1988, when he moved to Vermont from Massachusetts. Under his direction, the size of staff and breadth of legal work undertaken has increased significantly. VLA now has a staff of 89, is organized into 11 projects and has an annual budget of over $9.5 million.   Board Chair Robert Appel, who has served with Avildsen for the past 10 years, said, “In my capacity as board chair, it has been a great pleasure to work together with Eric Avildsen these past 10 years to increase access to justice in our communities. Under his leadership, Vermont Legal Aid and its sister organization, Legal Services Vermont, have both grown tremendously across the entire state through its five regional offices. Eric is certainly leaving the organization stronger than ever. It’s a privilege to count him as both a colleague and a friend.” The Board is looking forward to finding a worthy successor.   Avildsen has dedicated his entire career to working in legal services, first as a VISTA attorney focused on utility law, then at Central Massachusetts Legal Services in Worcester as a poverty law Staff Attorney and Managing Attorney, before coming to Vermont. He has a Law degree from the Franklin Pierce Law School at the University of New Hampshire.   Avildsen said he has given the Board of VLA a long lead time to find a new executive director and to be able to provide support and orientation for the new director. He stated that it has been an honor to work with VLA’s dedicated and talented staff doing such important work as well as the organization’s engaged and active board.   VLA Deputy Director David Koeninger noted, “It’s not hyperbole to say that over the past 33 years, no one has contributed more to the quest to increase access to justice in Vermont than Eric Avildsen.” In particular, he has appreciated Avildsen’s forward-thinking leadership, which has defined the organization over time and also in a crisis. “Eric’s support for the program’s advocacy has given VLA an outstanding reputation as a law firm not only in Vermont but nationally,” he said. “And I most admire Eric for the way he handled our operations when faced with the Covid-19 pandemic. He kept the program running smoothly and placed the safety of our staff as his number one priority, so that staff could focus on making sure that clients received service in the most difficult of times.”   A search committee comprised of board members and representatives of the staff has begun the process of identifying a successor, in partnership with Patricia Pap, the executive director at Management Information Exchange. Information about the position and search can be found here.   Avildsen says that making the decision to leave was very difficult. “I have been incredibly fortunate to be able to do a job I love, working side-by-side with such wonderful people. VLA did an incredible job helping Vermont’s most vulnerable people through the pandemic and continues to be a very healthy and strong organization. The time is right to bring in new leadership to help VLA define its next chapter.”  

On April 26, 2022, WCAX-TV3 interviewed Eric Avildsen about his long tenure at Vermont Legal Aid

This Fair Housing Month commentary is by attorney Rachel Batterson, who directs the Housing Discrimination Law Project at Vermont Legal Aid.

It’s April. As the crocuses open their delicate petals in front of my house, home buying and spring cleaning are in full swing. Many days, it’s raining and a bit raw, but the grass is greener, and I’m reveling in the longer days. It’s also time again to celebrate Fair Housing Month and to think about what kinds of communities we want to build and live in. As Vermont uses federal stimulus money to build affordable housing all around the state, NIMBY (“not in my backyard”) reactions are cropping up like weeds.

So, I’m issuing a challenge. Be a YIMBY. Show up and say, “Yes, I do want affordable housing in my backyard.” Let’s make all of Vermont’s communities welcoming and inclusive for all.

The Fair Housing Act was a central part of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s civil rights platform and it faced more opposition than any other part of the Civil Rights Act. In fact, it was only days after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated that Congress finally found the political will to enact it. The Fair Housing Act makes it illegal to discriminate against someone in every type of home and in planning and zoning decisions.

The Fair Housing Act is as much about communities as it is about homes. Your home is your base, and it determines nearly everything else about your life: access to fresh food, green spaces, cultural amenities, environmental hazards, and even your social circle. Did you know that you can predict a child’s educational and economic attainment and long-term health by where they grow up?

That’s because, more than fifty years after the Fair Housing Act was enacted, we still segregate our neighborhoods by race and income. And then we put most of the environmental hazards in poor and BIPOC communities and most of the amenities in White, affluent ones. Vermonters of color are subjected to racialized harassment, microaggressions, and over-policing. If you haven’t already, check out the “I Am Vermont Too” Project and the work of Professors Stephanie Seguino and Nancy Brooks.

Vermont makes it harder for people of color to buy homes. Vermont’s 2020 Housing Needs Assessment shows that the rate of Black homeownership in Vermont is significantly lower than White homeownership. Homeownership rates for Black Vermonters are also significantly lower here than in the rest of the nation.

There’s been a lot of discussion lately about Vermont’s housing crisis. And it’s really bad. Finding a home is the hardest for people who rent. There just aren’t enough apartments. And if you do find one, the rent is as expensive as a mortgage. What do you do if you can’t afford that? NIMBY opposition to below-market rental housing, especially if the housing allows children, has limited or entirely excluded such housing from many of Vermont’s communities. You can wait years on waiting lists to find an affordable home—if you’re lucky. Most of those apartments are in lower income, lower opportunity neighborhoods.

Vermonters say they support affordable housing. But when it comes time to build that housing in their community, they fight it. Affordable housing is great, just not in my backyard. NIMBY opposition makes it expensive to build below market homes. So fewer homes get built and most of them in low-opportunity locations where there’s less opposition. This concentrates poverty. Middle- and upper-income children who grow up in neighborhoods where everyone is just like them aren’t well prepared for life. And low-income children are less prepared for the workforce. That’s bad for Vermont.

So, what do we do? Let’s make sure that every Vermont town, suburb, exurb, and village has a range of housing, appropriate to the scale of the town, affordable to the full range of Vermonters: from retail workers and early childhood educators to teachers and nurses to doctors, lawyers, businesspeople, and others with higher incomes.

Let’s create inclusive, welcoming communities throughout Vermont. Be a YIMBY.


FEBRUARY 17, 2022

Contacts: Kelli Kazmarski (kkazmarski@
Emily Kenyon (ekenyon@

Unemployment Insurance Lawsuit: Interim Agreement reached in Murphy et al v. VDOL

Relief should be coming soon for Vermonters experiencing emotional and financial stress caused by significant delays in first level appeal hearings at the Department of Labor. Vermont Legal Aid (VLA) and the Vermont Department of Labor (VDOL) have entered into an interim settlement agreement in the class action lawsuit filed in December 2021. The settlement agreement provides for a process to clear the backlog in unemployment appeals by May 1, 2022. The agreement also establishes benchmarks for progress and regularly reporting of VDOL data to VLA.  A link to the settlement agreement is here.

Vermont law requires VDOL to hold unemployment hearings within thirty days after someone files an appeal. However, nearly two years after the coronavirus pandemic hit the state, Vermonters were still waiting up to six months for their hearing. People don’t get unemployment benefits while their appeal is pending, so these continued delays were devastating for out-of-work Vermonters. For folks appealing wrongful overpayment notices, the stress of having thousands of dollars owed to VDOL, while waiting up to six months to have an appeal heard, was also overwhelming, sometimes seriously impacting mental health.

After months of trying to resolve these issues, VLA filed a class action lawsuit on December 1, 2021, on behalf of Vermonters who were still waiting as long as six months to have appeal hearings held. At a status conference held just after the case was filed, the parties were ordered to discuss a possible settlement as the appeal delay issues which were the subject of the lawsuit were of grave concern for the court and the people of Vermont.  In those discussions, it was quickly apparent that the Department was genuinely interested in resolving the appeal delay issue and understood the urgency of the issue for Vermonters suffering from ongoing delays.

The Department’s efforts to remedy the appeal delays, including making internal procedural changes and hiring more administrative law judges to hear appeals, have already made a difference. Recent data shows significant improvement in average wait times for claimants waiting to have appeal hearings. The Department anticipates continued improvement in the next few months with the changes it has already made. “We appreciate the hard work the Department has put into responding to the dire needs of unemployed Vermonters to have appeal hearings held quickly. Those hearings are often the key to unlocking critical benefits a household needs when someone has suddenly lost their income through no fault of their own,” explained Kelli Kazmarski, one of the attorneys from Vermont Legal Aid representing the Plaintiffs.

While the interim agreement is in effect, the litigation is on hold to allow the Department to continue to implement its plans to eliminate appeal delays. During that time, the Department will report its progress on a weekly basis to VLA and must use best efforts to attain certain benchmarks over the next few months. Either party may ask the court to intervene after good faith effort to resolve any problems or failures to comply with the agreement. Barring unforeseen events, the parties hope to reach final settlement in the lawsuit by this summer.


DECEMBER 1, 2021

Kelly Murphy et al v. Michael Harrington, Commissioner, and VT Dept. of Labor

On December 1, 2021, Vermont Legal Aid Inc. (VLA) filed a class action lawsuit in Washington Superior Court against the Vermont Department of Labor (VDOL) based on extensive delays in scheduling unemployment benefit appeals in violation of the law. The lawsuit requests an order from the Court to compel VDOL to come into compliance with the law.

Vermont law requires VDOL to hold unemployment hearings within thirty days after someone files an appeal. However, nearly two years after the coronavirus pandemic hit the state, VDOL is still failing to comply with this mandate. Instead, Vermonters must wait almost six months for their hearing. People don’t get unemployment benefits while their appeal is pending, so these continued delays are devastating for out-of-work Vermonters. There is no question that VDOL is completely out of compliance with the law.

“Many of our clients were wrongfully denied unemployment compensation, wrongfully terminated from their unemployment compensation, or wrongfully issued huge overpayment notices,” says Kelli Kazmarski, VLA attorney in the Poverty Law Project. “These delays are violating not only state law, but also Vermonters’ due process rights. People are waiting months and months without benefits just to be heard before these errors can be corrected. That’s simply unacceptable.”

VLA has been pushing the DOL to resolve this issue since at least January 2021. Over the summer of 2021, VDOL made assurances to advocates that it had a plan, and that it expected to make substantial progress in resolving the unlawful delay in appeal hearings by the end of September 2021. Yet, that still has not happened. In fact, the data shows that these delays in holding appeal hearings have continued. Over 600 unemployed Vermonters are waiting five or six months for their appeal hearing.

As plaintiff Joshua Webb explains, these delays have a considerable impact: “What the Department of Labor doesn’t seem to understand is that some promise of receiving any benefits I am due in the future does not pay my rent or other bills right now. Getting a lump sum of benefits I was owed six months after I appeal is not that helpful if I am already homeless by the time I receive the benefits!”

Read the Complaint.

This commentary is by attorney Sandra Paritz, who directs the Poverty Law Project at Vermont Legal Aid.

Years ago, when my 3-year-old son first saw someone sleeping in the doorway of a building in the cold, he asked: Why is he sleeping there? Won’t he be too cold? Why doesn’t he have a home? Why doesn’t someone help him? Why are we not helping him?

I always tried to answer my children’s questions honestly. So I said: He does not have a home. Yes, it is too cold. There is no good reason for him not to have a home; it is wrong. Someone should help him. We should help him.

My son would not stop asking questions. He was crying. He could not keep walking down the street as if nothing happened. How could I?

What are the stories that we learn to tell ourselves to keep walking? We do not say them out loud, but maybe they are something like, “This is someone who wasn’t able to follow the rules, someone who did not manage their money well, or maybe they committed a crime that led them to this place.”

Of course, when we say these things out loud, we often know those stories are incomplete and our reasons inadequate. The stories we tell ourselves shouldn’t allow us to ignore people’s humanity.

I work at Vermont Legal Aid, where we represent people experiencing homelessness or at imminent risk of homelessness. I sometimes find myself advising people who, like me, are working hard to care for their children, pay their bills, and do all the normal things I do every day. But unlike me, they may not have a home to return to at night.

There is no way to justify this reality. It is what keeps those of us who work with housing-insecure people awake at night. Once you know the real story behind a person who is homeless, you cannot tell yourself the false and simplified narratives that allow you to just keep walking.

According to a January 2019 Vermont Legal Aid report, about 70 percent of evictions happen because tenants simply cannot afford to pay their rent. Vermont ranks fifth in the nation for having the largest housing affordability gap, and that problem is getting worse in the current housing market.

No one deserves to be homeless — regardless of how they got there. We all know what any 3-year-old would tell you: It is just horrifically wrong that a human being is sleeping on the street, and no one is helping them.

In ”A Dry White Season,” Marlon Brando said the law and justice can be described as distant cousins. Sometimes, when I see that the law regularly allows people to be evicted into homelessness, often for no reason, that statement rings true. But I think it is more accurate to say that the law reflects our culture, and sometimes it takes time and political courage for our culture to evolve.

In 1999, the Vermont Supreme Court held that the prohibition on same-sex marriage violated the Vermont Constitution. The Legislature’s efforts to fix it culminated in emotionally charged debates that finally resulted in the civil union statute in 2000.

Nine years later, when the Legislature took up same-sex marriage, there were enough votes to override the governor’s veto and to make the right to same-sex marriage into law. With advocacy and commitment from our political leaders, our culture had evolved to the understanding that recognizing same-sex marriage was simply the right thing to do.

Similarly, our cultural understanding of homelessness is evolving. For many years, those who witnessed people becoming homeless have argued that housing is a basic human right; that to build healthy, thriving communities, housing for all must be our top priority.

But historically, many who did not live or work in proximity to people experiencing homelessness did not share that view. The pandemic has begun to change that. Just recently, President Biden declared that housing should be a right, and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge has urged that “housing is infrastructure.” Gov. Scott has characterized his housing budget as “the greatest investment in housing in the history of Vermont.”

Vermont’s efforts to house all who were homeless during the pandemic allowed us to have one of the lowest infection rates before vaccines became available. Numerous studies show that housing is essential to health, and that homelessness causes and exacerbates trauma, mental illness, chronic health conditions and substance use disorders.

We have the tools to address these problems. It is time for the law to reflect what we now know to be true — that housing for all must be recognized as a basic human right.