State sets new rules for winter shelters

VERMONT — The state of Vermont will once again pay to shelter people experiencing homelessness in motels during the bulk of the cold-weather months, regardless of that day’s forecast or whether they meet certain eligibility requirements.

But this blanket offer of state-subsidized shelter won’t kick in until Dec. 15. And until then, getting help will be a lot more complicated.

Someone currently seeking shelter from the state can only receive a voucher to stay at a hotel if they meet certain criteria. A person who receives federal disability benefits, for example, is typically only eligible for a voucher that lasts 28 days. But during colder weather, Vermont relaxes these requirements through its “adverse weather conditions” policy, although how it does so has varied in recent years as the state grapples with its housing crisis.

The Department for Children and Families announced its new cold weather rules on Monday, Nov. 6. And for the second year in a row, the state is adopting a hybrid approach. 

From Nov. 15 until Dec. 15 — and again between March 15, 2024 and April 15, 2024 — emergency housing will be regionally authorized night-to-night based on strict, weather-dependent criteria:

• Temperatures (or wind chill) must be forecast to dip below 20 degrees Fahrenheit or,

• Temperatures must be forecast to dip below 32 degrees and there must be a greater than 50% chance of precipitation.

• Either condition must be forecast to be met for at least three hours within the hours of 6 p.m. and 6 a.m., based on the town in which DCF’s local district office is located.

But from Dec. 15 through March 15, 2024, vouchers can be authorized in 30-day increments, regardless of the weather. And people seeking shelter won’t be required to meet typical eligibility requirements, although they will have to contribute part of their income toward their stay.

Brenda Siegel, a housing advocate, called the policy “absolutely unacceptable” for waiting until Dec. 15 to relax eligibility and offer seasonal vouchers. 

“It’s horrifying that the administration thinks that it’s OK for people in Vermont to be outside right now overnight,” she said. 

And while a night-to-night approach may — on paper at least — get people inside during fall and spring’s colder weather, Siegel argued there are numerous reasons why it was both impractical and inhumane. 

People who are unsheltered can’t reliably charge their phones (if they have one) to call the state for that night’s voucher — and if they do, they might face long wait times, made longer by the fact that high numbers of people are trying to access a benefit they are required to renew daily. And they also can’t plan ahead, Siegel noted, which makes it even more difficult to arrange the needed transportation. 

The department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Motel-based shelter will only be available if there are vacancies in participating establishments. A capacity list published by DCF on Monday indicated that availability was limited or nonexistent in six of 12 regions across the state; this includes Middlebury, which is listed as having no emergency housing in a motel as of Wednesday, Nov. 8.

DCF regularly posts updates about motel capacity and whether the adverse weather conditions policy is in effect on its website at

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