Disabled homeless people facing eviction from motels on July 1 will get an additional two weeks to prove they should be allowed to remain in the emergency accommodations through the summer.
An order approved Wednesday morning by a federal judge gives residents more time to get proof from their doctor that they have a disability that prevents them from working, which the state requires.
Vermont Legal Aid filed a lawsuit Monday seeking to block the Agency of Human Services from ending benefits many homeless receive under the General Assistance Emergency Housing Program. The plan to end housing benefits for the homeless July 1 contains exemptions for adults 60 and older, households with children, and people who are pregnant or disabled.
Those groups would be allowed to stay through mid-September, depending on funding. The program to date has spent an estimated $50 million housing the homeless.
But Legal Aid attorneys argue the ouster would be inhumane and unfairly affect disabled people who couldn’t get proper documentation. The Agency of Human Services agreed to the extension.
“We are pleased that the State agreed to this order,” Legal Aid attorney Jessica Radbord said in a press release. “This will provide vulnerable Vermonters an additional two weeks to verify disability status while remaining sheltered.”
Legal Aid documented cases of disabled people facing eviction because they could not provide a note from a physician documenting their disability.
The order allows residents to “self-attest” that they have a disability and gives them two more weeks to get the required note from a health care provider, including a primary care doctor, therapist, counselor, clinician or nurse.
U.S. District Court Judge Christina Reiss approved the order after the case was transferred to federal court at the request of Vermont's Office of the Attorney General.
Housing advocates and state officials have long known that finding permanent housing for the nearly 6,000 people living in motels during the pandemic would be a huge challenge when the health crisis abated. The state has dedicated more than $120 million to create that housing, according to Mike Smith, secretary of the Vermont Agency of Human Services.
Smith noted that even after the July 1 deadline, 950 households would be eligible for the emergency housing program, far more than the 300 that were served annually under the modest pre-pandemic program to protect the homeless from bitter winter cold.