By Guy Page
Canaan, the little town in the corner pocket of the Northeast Kingdom where they say you can stand with one foot in Vermont, one foot in Quebec, and spit into New Hampshire, is flying solo again.
In August, 2021, the Canaan school board voted 5-1 to not require Covid-19 masking in school. The State of Vermont’s ‘guidance’ to mask students was adopted by every public school district in Vermont – except Canaan. (The board did require masking on schoolbuses.)
Like most towns in the most rural county of Vermont, Canaan is small and growing smaller (pop. 896 in 2020, down about 10% from 2010). Her people earn less, live in less expensive homes, and are older than the average Vermonter. It boasts a border crossing, Lake Wallace, and the Village of Beecher Falls.
Last month, Contrary Canaan did it again. Where many Vermont municipalities are embracing the responsibility of providing basic services for the homeless, or at least doing nothing and hoping the State of Vermont solves the growing homeless problem (VT #2 in the nation per capita, after California), tiny Canaan passed a “Municipal Land Loitering and Encampment” ordinance August 22 “prohibiting excessive loitering.”
The ordinance says no person shall:
- “Sit, stand or loiter” on any public property, including streets, roads, public buildings and parks after being asked to leave.
- Block roads or sidewalks or cause pedestrian or vehicular traffice to be impeded
- Sit, stand or loiter between 10 PM and 5 PM on any public property.
Violators will be cited by police.
The Vermont ACLU is opposing the measure, according to VTDigger. The ACLU has long been an opponent of anti-loitering municipal ordinances. In 2018 it led the successful charge to get six municipalities to overturn anti-panhandling ordinances. Last month, it decried the emergency of a petition in Brattleboro to reinstate the panhandling ban.
Although Canaan does not have a homeless shelter – reportedly there are no permanent facilities anywhere in Essex County – it does have an Northeast Kingdom Community Action office, which provides counseling and services to people without housing.
The extent of homeless loitering in Canaan is unclear. In 2021 – the last year the annual ‘count’ of Vermont’s homeless included a breakdown by county – Essex County had only four people listed as homeless. However, growing homeless numbers statewide, including in other small rural border towns like Bradford, show that the problem of indigent loitering is no longer an urban problem.
A bill in the Vermont Legislature known as the Homeless Bill of Rights would, as written, strike down all municipal anti-loitering ordinances. H.132 is now in the House Committee on General and Housing.
Categories: Local government