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Sheir: Parklet is Out Of Control

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Roxanne and Billy hanging out at the Guertin shelter on Montpelier’s Main Street with the photographer’s dog Jasper. The person in the back asked not to be named. Photo by Cassandra Hemenway.
Editor’s Note: The following email from Montpelier resident Richard Sheir was sent to City Manager William Fraser, Assistant City Manager Cameron Niedermayer, Mayor Anne Watson, City Councilor Conor Casey, and Police Chief Brian Peete. The email details Sheir’s beliefs about the location of the Guertin shelter and the people who use it. Sheir is the host of “Montpelier Civic Forum” on ORCA Media. 

Asked about Sheir’s points in a phone interview, Fraser said “While some folks may not like who is sitting [at the Guertin shelter], they have every right to sit there.” He added “there’s bigger underlying issues than a structure that are contributing to this” that he said the state, rather than local governments, should address. The city budget (up for vote March 1, 2022) reserves $425,000 in federal American Recovery Plan Act funds to address issues related to homelessness; and $45,000 is budgeted for the Homelessness Task Force.

Excerpts from Sheir’s email are below. Names of individuals have been redacted because we do not have evidence that they were accurately quoted. Otherwise we have not edited the email for grammar or punctuation. We also invited Ken Russell, Executive Director of Another Way, to respond to this email in this issue

—CH

From: Richard Sheir 

Sent:Monday, December 20, 2021 11:01 AM

To: William Fraser

Cc: Cameron Niedermayer; Anne
Watson; Conor Casey; Brian Peete 

Subject: The Parklet Near Shaws Has Gotten Out Of Control And Is Scaring Residents

Bill;

…I got an earful from [PERSON 1] the other day asking when City Council is going to have a session where they discuss what to do about the mess in the lot next to Shaws. I mentioned (those) comments to [PERSON 2]. Some of [their] customers who are doggers are talking about the same. A few salient highlights:

  • … they feel that the structure on Main makes our town look like the worst sections of homeless [sic] in Seattle and San Francisco. They don’t understand why it is there. It was hidden away on a walking path that very very few use during winter. There has never been a public explanation of why it was moved to the center of commercial Montpelier. They wonder what in the world the rationale was for moving an out of the way eyesore to an area where we greet tourists and children walk to the town’s grocery. That makes utterly no sense to most Montpelier residents who are not on the Homeless Task Force. 
[PERSON 2] got a comment that [they] really couldn’t disagree with. “… Why are Montpelier residents paying for something we can’t even use? It has been taken over by hostiles. This is totally crazy. Take it down.” 

[PERSON 1] … (said) “donate it to Barre. They can put it next to the homeless shelter. Given the people in there, that is a far better setting.”

  • There are fears that since the police have taken a hands off attitude towards anti-social behavior in the parklet like open public intoxication and mounting a sleeping bag on the outside of the south wall and putting furniture inside like it is their living room. There is a concern that the police will next turn a blind eye to a burn barrel inside the structure to stay warm. That would be the final indignity. The complete take over. The end of any notion of rule of law in the structure.  
  •  There are fears afloat that by moving a structure for vagrants from an obscure location to the gateway to downtown Montpelier, the Homeless [sic] Task Force and the City Manager’s office are planning down the line for a San Francisco style tent city on the location in the spring and summer since they are now actively encouraging camping on city land. One of [PERSON 2]’s customers suggested the city deed the land to Montpelier Alive so it is no longer public and Montpelier Alive can control it so that there are no tent cities there and they can take the parklet down. …
  • There is still mass confusion in the community over whether the City Manager’s office is planning for tent cities in open areas in Hubbard Park. [PERSON 1] wasn’t the only person who pointed out that the Parks Commission has jurisdiction over Hubbard and they never allowed overnight camping. City Council has no say unless they seek to get rid of the Parks Commission. …The bottom line is that people simply don’t understand the city policy on camping on public land. …
Earlier in the year a member of the Homeless [sic] Task Force made a comment in  FPF… that Montpelier’s dog owners have more compassion for their dogs than they do for the homeless. That makes Montpelier dog owners simply sizzle because they feel that they have total compassion for those standing outside churches for food handouts. They have compassion for people who have suffered an unlucky break … they contribute food and warm clothing for them. They lack any sense of empathy with vagrants whose culture is totally alien to their sense of small town community. Adults with no personal responsibility and work ethic who thumb their nose at the common culture in our town. Dogs are part of their families. These Montpelier families play by the rules and pay the city a yearly fee for the right to have their dogs in the city; including the parks. Unlike the Homeless [sic] Task Force, most in Montpelier make a sharp distinction between helping people down on their luck or still poor even though they are working and enabling vagrants to conduct an irresponsible lifestyle in our town instead of somewhere else. 

…our self image as a community doesn’t accommodate a tent city in the heart of downtown or in our beloved downtown park either. …To encourage that sort of thing here is beyond regrettable. It fundamentally changes the character of the town. Texas’ law against camping on public lands is rapidly working its way to its District Court where Taxas [sic] will likely prevail, which means that the other District Court ruling is soon not to be binding at all; if it ever were. The decision to allow tent cities on public lands is not at all a legal decision. It should be a community decision on how the community perceives itself.

Richard Sheir lives in Montpelier.

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