In winter, Vermont goes to great effort — and expense — to keep its homeless population out of the cold. But on any given night in Chittenden County, as many as 100 individuals are on a "do not house" list. The state maintains a running tally of people barred from its emergency housing program.
Jessica Radbord, an attorney with Vermont Legal Aid, rattled off reasons "vulnerable" homeless people might not follow through on claiming a bed: a victim of domestic violence gets word that her abuser's friend is staying at the same shelter; someone with a mental illness can't handle a communal shelter setting.
Sometimes, just the logistical requirements — phoning ESD or finding transportation to the motel — are too much for the person to handle.
Those who find themselves on the list do have the option of appealing to an independent board within the Agency of Human Services. If the situation is time-sensitive, he or she can request an emergency hearing to avoid a several-day wait. But assembling a case in a matter of hours comes with its own challenges: "Often you're appealing a denial based on something that happened at a shelter two weeks ago, so it's really hard to get your witnesses together," explained Radbord.
Radbord has represented clients who've successfully gotten their sanctions overturned. But she said she's concerned that people aren't always informed of this option: "A lot of folks just give up and walk away."
"I would love to see there be no sanction list at all," said Radbord, who previously ran a domestic violence shelter in New York, where the right to shelter is enshrined in the state constitution.