“People are in panic mode,” Rebecca Duprey told local legislators and Montpelier City Council members on June 14. Duprey was referring to the current end of the federally funded emergency motel housing program implemented during the pandemic. Duprey lives at the Hilltop Inn in Berlin and has been actively trying to help her family and others who are unable to find a home.
“I have two children. I do 10-15 (housing) applications a week,” she said, but she has not been able to find a place to live, even though she has a Section 8 housing voucher to help pay rent. And now her housing is even more uncertain. But Duprey said she is not alone.
“People are crying and begging for help. They don’t know where to go. They don’t know what to do.” Duprey said that in addition to the motel program providing shelter, it also provided enough stability for participants to make personal improvements.
Now that the motel program is winding down, people are taking donated camping gear and trying to find places to go. Finding a housing solution is more dire than ever, it was said. For one thing, evictees don’t know where they are allowed to camp. As an insider, Duprey shared her perspective from her vantage point at the Hilltop, but other members of the public spoke up as well.
Brenda Siegel of Newfane said she organized a group to witness the June 1 motel evictions. They traveled to motels where people were being turned out and interviewed them. Siegel said she met a 72-year-old woman who had hip surgery on May 23 and was evicted June 1. She met another person who received a tent and was now living under a bridge. She also met people with diabetes, cancer, bipolar disorder, multiple personality disorder, and brain tumors – all who were turned out of housing June 1.
“We can’t just talk about it,” Siegel said. “I beg you, please listen to us now.”
Later, Montpelier resident Steve Whitaker said the matter has to be approached from a regional standpoint. Overall, the crisis is a failure of planning, he said. Whitaker agreed with a statement City Manager William Fraser said earlier that evening, that building new housing units for those experiencing homelessness would take years. Whitaker said an interim solution needs to be reached. He suggested that places like Peace Park, Hubbard Park, The Elks Club property and the Home Farm need to be made available. “Where can we quickly put people and hire managers at $25-$30 an hour” to manage placement of unhoused people?, Whitaker asked, suggesting that someone needs to make sure people with addictions have safe places to go.
Those who have been actively addressing the crisis also spoke up. Rick DeAngelis, executive director of Good Samaritan Haven – an organization that is managing several locations offering shelter to homeless people – said he is hopeful after listening to those present. “I’ve been working in housing my entire career,” he said. “Everyone here is aware and trying to find solutions.” DeAngelis noted he has been actively involved with community leaders in Berlin, Barre, and Montpelier to brainstorm about solutions. “Maybe this is the point in time when we may actually turn a corner,” DeAngelis said.
These public comments followed a legislative report from a delegation of lawmakers representing Washington County, including Senators Ann Cummings, Andrew Perchlik, Anne Watson, and Representative Conor Casey during the regular Montpelier City Council meeting.
Sen. Cummings opened the legislative report by saying, “almost everything has been vetoed.” However, Cummings said momentum for a veto override relative to the budget is underway. Other legislative matters concerning Cummings are the cost of childcare due to worker shortages, and the fact that schools are in crisis and in need of more mental health care. Additionally, closing the motel program without any plan to shelter motel residents is a big concern.
Taking a different tack, Sen. Watson said she wanted to mention some smaller bills that could be seen as “wins,” such as the banning of PFAS in cosmetics and personal care items. Also, funding for “micro transit” projects is a good thing as is the expansion of net metering.
And on another note, Rep. Casey mentioned that the current situation with state workers still working remotely is having a negative impact on downtown Montpelier. He said he sees empty parking lots and fewer people on the streets window shopping and eating lunch. Also, Casey recently visited a state office in Waterbury where one out of every 10 desks were empty. All this abandoned parking lot and building office space should be used to help the housing crisis, he said. Vermonters need to do more for the unhoused, and to have a more “humane” gradual transition from the motel program to another housing situation.
Again, the subject came back around to housing before the previously mentioned members of the public expressed concern about the impact of homelessness on the Montpelier community.
On other matters, councilors adopted a Juneteenth proclamation resolving that June 19 will be celebrated in Montpelier. Juneteenth celebrates African American freedom by remembering the “proclamation of the end of slavery in Texas on June 19, 1865.”
Also, Ward Joyce, chair of the Montpelier Art Commission, asked the City Council for an ongoing $16,000.00 budget to maintain artwork, create signs, and perform other ongoing art-oriented activities.
Then, Katie Trautz, executive director of Montpelier Alive, reported about Montpelier Alive’s activities, including investing in plantings, holiday decorations, events and more. City council unanimously approved Montpelier Alive’s annual expense budget of $60,000.
Police chief Eric Nordenson then spoke about a proposed public intoxication ordinance. The ordinance proposes fines for those found to be in violation. However, the ordinance suggests restorative justice and using the Turning Point Center in Barre to help people in recovery.
Nordenson was followed by Kurt Motyka of the Department of Public Works who spoke about East State Street construction and plans afoot to separate the storm water system from the sewer system. He said they need to hold a public hearing about the environmental impacts of the project.
Many other topics were covered during the nearly three hour meeting, including issues around the water resources recovery facility (methane gas safety equipment and training), water resources recovery facility aerated grit blower relocation, disinfection system ballast card purchase, FY 24 tax anticipation note, Vermont state revolving loan fund, Vermont Center for Wellness Responder annual contract, Montpelier Senior Activity Center air conditioner replacement, street closure application for a September race, Conservation Committee report, city council report, mayor’s report, city clerk’s report, and city manager’s report.
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