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[July 6, 2021].
Margaret Blanchard, Montpelier
Appreciate the Encampment Response Policy
I am a member of the Homelessness Task Force, an advisory committee for the Montpelier City Council.
For years, there have been unhoused people camping in the city. With the pandemic, all were moved to motels and have been housed for approximately 17 months. Because of state budgetary constraints, starting July 1 those individuals are being moved out. As a result, many will be left without shelter, and many will camp in the city again.
Anticipating a big increase in the number of campers, the city developed a policy to guide city employees in their treatment of the unhoused. This policy speaks to treating them and their possessions with dignity and care. The tenor is one of respect. All affected city departments were involved in its development, as were other city council committees. Areas of city property were designated as available for camping. On July 14, the task force reviewed the policy again and suggestions were taken from members of the community. While not all will be incorporated in the draft policy, all concerns were heard. The task force recommended submitting the draft to council, understanding that changes may be made later.
I want to commend Cameron Niedermayer, Assistant City Manager, for both her patience and her spirit of inclusion in developing this document. It is the first time something of this nature has been done and will give valuable guidance to all — residents, campers, and city employees.
The next steps are to provide needed support to the homeless and to ultimately have them housed.
Carolyn J. Ridpath, Montpelier
On Homelessness: What Is One To Do?
First, it is essential to understand how the current crisis concerning homelessness and related matters far predates the current COVID-19 pandemic. There have been large numbers of persons living unhoused, and those persons are, once again, being abandoned to reside on the streets, underneath bridges or in the woods, and so on.
This was how it had been well before the pandemic hit our region. It continues to this day and will only get much worse if something real is not done to seriously address these and related matters.
Among the many dangers encountered by persons living unhoused on a routine basis, these individuals and families remain quite vulnerable to being institutionalized under the powerful authoritarian thumb of the state (read: government, including at the municipal level) and its agencies or departments in its various regressive and most costly forms, or otherwise succumbing to grave illness and disability or even death.
Either that or local, county, state, or federal governments feign concern, but otherwise mostly exercise deliberate indifference, oftentimes citing a lack of funds and resources as being the problem.
Which begs the question, what is one to do?
What is crucial to realize as well as acknowledge is that the situation has been and continues to actually be more about the need for exercising vigorous political will and then making these matters among the most urgent (read: highest) priorities to be seriously addressed in a meaningful manner.
This, however, takes proper leadership — at all levels.
If this was in fact done and leadership seriously undertaken, those whose job and responsibility it is to do so would be aggressively seeking out and obtaining the necessary funding, resources, and support required to bring about a meaningful and sufficient resolution to help meet what has been and continues to be an ever-growing crisis for many individuals and families who are most in need living within local communities across the region, state, and nation. Instead, lame excuses and even lamer rationales are oftentimes offered and cited for the failure to act in a deliberate, compassionate, and thoughtful manner.
It must be kept in mind that there is a much higher cost, including financially but also in human terms, associated with doing nothing.
Bringing about actual change to what has sadly become accepted as the status quo would also require no longer placing blame on unhoused individuals and families for their circumstances and treating them as if they are the problem; rather, people who are living unhoused should be regarded and treated as being part of the solution and, if they are able and willing to do so, invited to be the primary member of a team working to help them become permanently housed.
It might not be easy or simple to achieve, but it remains doable all the same.
Morgan Brown, Montpelier
Morgan W. Brown previously lived unhoused for many years of his life, including 12 years without permanent housing during the last go around. He has been permanently housed in Central Vermont for nearly 12 years. He formerly served on the Montpelier Homelessness Task Force and, when possible, continues to be engaged in activism and advocacy concerning these and related matters in various ways.
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