During most cold Vermont months, the state will again pay to house low-income Vermonters who are homeless in hotels and motels, regardless of the daily forecast.
But this promise of help comes with many caveats.
Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Department for Children and Families’ inclement weather policy – informally known as the Cold Weather Policy – relaxed eligibility for the General Assistance Program from the state to cover the cost of emergency lodging in motels during periods of extreme cold. But the shelter was only guaranteed one day at a time, and its activation strictly depended on weather conditions.
Last year, under pressure to let hundreds of homeless Vermonters who had been kicked out of a pandemic-era aid program return to motels, the state significantly relaxed the cold weather rule . Anyone earning less than $24,000 a year could seek refuge in motels from November 22, 2021 to March 1, 2022, regardless of the forecast, the DCF said at the time.
This year, the state made a similar announcement: From December 15 to March 15, 2023, temporary motel shelters will be available regardless of the forecast, and may be allowed in increments of up to 30 days.
But this rule does not apply for a month. By December 15, and then between March 15, 2023 and April 15, 2023, emergency cold weather accommodation will be authorized regionally according to strict criteria:
Temperatures (or wind chill) should be forecast to drop below 20 degrees Fahrenheit or,
Expect temperatures to drop below 32 degrees and there should be more than a 50% chance of precipitation.
Either condition must be scheduled to be met for at least three hours between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m., depending on the city in which the local DCF district office is located.
That means despite the National Weather Service’s forecast that Vermont’s first snowstorm of the season will land early Wednesday morning, the adverse weather policy won’t be in effect in 11 of the state’s 12 regions on Wednesday, according to the DCF website. Homeless people will, however, be able to apply for shelter under the policy in most areas on Tuesday and Thursday.
“Tomorrow is a snowstorm,” Rebecca Plummer, a Vermont legal aid attorney, said Tuesday. “And maybe, technically, it falls through the cracks – which is just proof of the folly of analyzing it like that.”
Plummer also noted that motel and hotel shelters would be subject to availability — and there appear to be very few rooms open to Vermont’s most vulnerable. A capacity list released by DCF on Tuesday said rooms were “extremely limited” or completely unavailable in 10 of the state’s 12 regions.
As a massive influx of federal cash during the Covid-19 crisis dries up, Vermont is accelerating several key housing programs even as a growing number of low- and middle-income families find themselves excluded from the housing market and from location.
A DCF spokesperson said Tuesday that no one from the department was available to answer questions from a reporter until Wednesday afternoon.
The DCF publishes regular updates on motel capacity and whether the inclement weather policy is in effect on its website .
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