Stefan Hard/Times Argus
Salvation Army bell ringer Paul Tucker mans his post Tuesday outside Price Chopper supermarket in Berlin.
BARRE - The man manning the red kettle outside Price Chopper supermarket on the Barre-Montpelier Road was informed this week that his decision to "volunteer" for the Salvation Army this holiday season will cost him his bed at a local homeless shelter.
According to a tersely worded notice, Paul Tucker claims he and others were handed after arriving at the Good Samaritan Haven on Sunday night, his days at the Barre-based homeless shelter are now numbered.
The notice, signed by veteran case worker Norma Fleury, leaves little doubt about the reason: "Dear Paul," it states. "Good Samaritan Haven will no longer support individuals volunteering for the Salvation Army. We provide housing for those trying to get their lives in order. You have until Dec. 1st, to find alternative housing."
That is Saturday.
Although Fleury declined comment when asked about the notice Wednesday, Paul Mascitti, the shelter's executive director, confirmed that it is in keeping with the guidelines established at Good Samaritan Haven.
"We have the policy of sticking with somebody and keeping them until they stop working toward finding permanent shelter," explained Mascitti, who takes personal pride in the fact that 141 of the 232 people who stayed at the homeless shelter last year were able to find housing before they left.
"That's a pretty good record," he said, explaining that most of those who were able to transition from the emergency shelter into apartments of their own were able to do so by looking for, and finding, full-time employment.
According to Mascitti, Tucker's decision to accept a $20 stipend for his 10-hour-a-day shifts outside of Price Chopper prevents him from making any meaningful headway toward leaving the shelter.
"He's not working toward a permanent solution," Mascitti said, explaining that Tucker would have received a similar notice if he had taken a low-wage part-time job at a fast-food restaurant, or pursued an unreliable stream of income associated with finding "leads" for a local company that sells vacuum cleaners.
"They're not going to stay at the shelter if they're not working toward something that's 'working,'" said Mascitti. "There are opportunities out there and none of them pay $2 an hour."
Tucker, 48, says he hasn't found them.
Standing next to one of the Salvation Army's signature red kettles, the soft-spoken Hinesburg native said his search for work in central Vermont has been frustrating.
"I can do a lot of things, but it's pretty hard to get a job," said the man whose work history includes stints as a small farmer, a self-employed painter, and, most recently, a maintenance man at the McDonalds restaurants in Randolph and Burlington.
Now, Tucker admits, he's hardly working.
"I don't know if this is a 'job,' to tell you the truth, I'm just trying to help these people out," he said of the Salvation Army.
Tucker, who claims he has spent the better part of the past nine months at the shelter in Barre, said he was "irked" when he learned that his affiliation with the Salvation Army was the reason he was being asked to leave.
"It doesn't make sense to me," he said, quickly conceding that he may have overstayed his welcome.
"In the period of time that I've been there I should have been able to move on," he said, describing his future in central Vermont as "iffy" and a bus trip to Vergennes as "likely."
"I need to go somewhere," he said with a shrug. "That's what she (Fleury) said."
Although the ultimatum may seem cold to some - particularly given the time of year - Mascitti said he isn't running a "free winter hotel" on North Seminary Street.
"The truth is a person who is willing to work 10 hours a day should be able to find a job," he said.
According to Mascitti's estimates, it costs roughly $30 per person per night to run a shelter that is always busiest in the winter months.
"I can't justify someone earning $20 a day and costing the (Good Samaritan) Haven $30 a night," he said, adding: "While that person is taking up a bunk, someone else, who is willing to work toward a permanent solution, can't be in that bunk ... That's just not right."
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