Left out in the cold? Housing the homeless as temperatures fall

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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) "Right now, I'm stuffing my hands up into my jacket just trying to hold a sign so I can make a few bucks so I can eat tomorrow," said Mandy, who identifies as homeless.

Mandy sleeps on the streets of Burlington.

Reporter Tyler Dumont: Why not go to a shelter?
Mandy: Because of the anxiety. And it's all full anyway. They're all full.

Mandy is right. Friday afternoon, we called all of Burlington's shelters including COTS, Spectrum and the low-barrier Winter Warming Shelter run by Community Health Centers. And with temperatures projected to be near zero overnight with wind chills, they all told us they were at max capacity.

Tyler Dumont: So if someone is out there in the cold, are they going to be turned away?
Rita Markley/COTS: No. They're not going to be turned away without an option. So, when we can't find an immediate bunk, we'll find what's called an emergency placement.

An emergency placement is typically a state-paid voucher for local motels. But Mandy tells us getting to and from those spots can be unpredictable.

"I don't know if I'm going to be put in Winooski or way down on Shelburne Road," she said.

Others say they're willing to face the risk and fight the fierce temperatures.

Tyler Dumont: When it gets this cold, what changes for you?
Jason Ploof/Homeless: A lot, a lot. In terms of what do we have to survive for the night? What do we need to have? You know, multiple sleeping bags, mats to keep yourself off the cardboard to keep yourself off the cement and stuff.

The city recently shut down multiple homeless encampments. The mayor says while some camps typically tend to disappear during the winter due to temperatures, the city has not changed its policy.

"The criteria are pretty clear," said Mayor Miro Weinberger, D-Burlington. "If we become aware of a public safety issue in an encampment, we feel it's our responsibility to act. I think you will not see that happen during the cold weather months but it's not because of the posture changes."

While beds are fully reserved at the winter warming shelter, they told us that people can still stop by and if someone doesn't show up by 9 p.m., they will give that reserved bed to someone else.