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Shocked to See Guertin Park Structure Removed

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The Guertin shelter, pictured here before it's move to Main Street, often shelters those who need a place to sleep outdoors. Photo by J. Gregory Gerdel.
By Page Guertin 

I was shocked and saddened by the recent city council decision to remove the Guertin Parklet structure to make the gathering place and the people who used it simply disappear while the council “really focuses” on coming up with solutions. It seems to me that a more thoughtful temporary solution (emphasis on temporary) could have been to move it to the back of the lot, beyond the parking area, provide a port-a-potty nearby, build a simple but safe fireplace, provide for tarps to keep the cold wind out, and set up the water collection system from the old location so it could both collect rain water and be refilled as necessary. Not expensive or difficult temporary steps, but more humanitarian toward people experiencing difficult times. That would have given shelter users a little privacy and some comforts, and reduced the interactions with passers-by, without removing the incentive for the council to actually take action to provide permanent solutions.

There are people who called that place home, people who needed the space to get together with their peers, people who received services there from Washington County Mental Health, Good Samaritan Haven, and others, and at least one life was saved because the person was in an easy-to-reach location when their crisis happened. Yes there are substance abuse issues and mental health issues and unfortunate interactions with other people (not always initiated by the people in the structure), but these are human beings in a difficult situation, perhaps with little hope of a future. They should be granted a little compassion from those of us who take our warm homes, running water, and safety for granted.

As for the fact that there were police and ambulance calls to the site, that is the function of the emergency services, and we can be grateful that they were nearby and did respond to prevent injuries, damage, and worse.

The structure served an important temporary function, and it’s possible that moving it away from the center of town will take the issue out of sight, relieving the council of any incentive to actually come up with better solutions for people who need support. I’m dismayed that the only concrete steps the council has taken are to move the structure from its original location to the middle of town, and then to just take it away because step one didn’t work the way they wanted.

It is clear that the Guertin Parklet structure is not, and has never been, an adequate shelter for those in need of one; it was designed simply to provide a bit of shade and a place to sit for people using the Siboinebi Trail. It’s also clear that homelessness is a nation-wide, shameful problem created by the massive inequities in our society and gross inadequacies in mental health systems. But I think we, as city residents, could show a little more tolerance and understanding of the issues that lead people to live on the street and perhaps try to drown their sorrows.

I hope the city council is very serious about working on permanent solutions to providing services for our neediest community members. They need shelter from the elements, warmth, safety, toilets, showers, lockers, and better public transportation, all of which could also be utilized by people hiking or biking through town, and potentially other tourists. In the meantime, even though it is getting warmer outside, there is still a need for some basic necessities such as bathrooms and showers and shelter from the elements. Now.

Page and Jed Guertin moved to Montpelier in 2010. Page serves on the Conservation Commission, sings and is learning to play fiddle. Jed, for whom the parklet was named, passed away in 2017.

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