MONTPELIER — The City Council resoundingly rejected a call on Wednesday for a “no loitering” ordinance to move the homeless and itinerant population off downtown streets in the Capital City.
The call by local landlord David Kelley — supported by some local businesses — was dismissed by the council as legally unenforceable unless laws were being broken, after consulting with the Montpelier Police Department. Several other local people and city representatives spoke in favor of efforts to support the homeless population and the council agreed to establish a task force to address the conflict in the city.
The concern over the homeless on the streets follows complaints about sidewalks and business entrances being blocked, aggressive panhandling, cigarette smoke wafting into businesses, public intoxication and drug dealing.
Kelley was not present at the meeting but his partner, Candace Moot, who also owns a building on State Street, spoke for both of them and read a letter to the council that stressed how brick-and-mortar businesses were struggling in the age of internet sales without having to deal with additional problems posed by the homeless.
“This summer, a handful of people have chosen to sit or even congregate in front of the buildings on the corner of State and Main (streets) in Montpelier,” she read. “The result has been a steady stream of difficulties for the businesses that support these buildings and that ultimately help pay the property taxes for those buildings.”
She went on to list the complaints about businesses being impacted but acknowledged the Constitutional rights of the homeless to congregate, panhandle and express themselves in various ways.
“There are plenty of places in downtown Montpelier where people can congregate, smoke cigarettes, talk, sing, play musical instruments,” Moot added, and asked the city to consider “reasonable steps” to help concerned business owners.
Moot also suggested some solutions that included providing a list of social services for the homeless that could also be posted on the city website. Moot also asked that notices be placed to discourage people from giving money to panhandlers or that the city only allow panhandling further down State or Main streets or require permits to solicit donations.
Montpelier Police Chief Tony Facos noted there is already A Survivor’s Guide available, with contact information for a wide range of services, including referrals to housing programs, published by Washington County Mental Health Services that is widely distributed to the homeless. He said the police are sensitive to the difficulties of the homeless population, could not violate their civil rights and only make arrests if laws are broken.
Fellow Officer Diane Mathews said she regularly has contact with the homeless and note that many restaurants will donate food to them or to city churches that provide lunch for the homeless during the week.
Several speakers at the meeting said that some of individuals were homeless by choice, preferred to live outdoors and did not want help or services.
The city has a warming shelter in winter at Bethany Church, administered by the Good Samaritan Haven homeless shelter in Barre. There is also Another Way on Barre Street, which works with the homeless, unemployed and those struggling with addiction, mental health issues and other life crises, several speakers at the meeting noted.
Facos said the police would welcome having a social worker from Washington County Mental Health Services work with them to help the homeless connect with the services they need, a proposal supported by councilors.
Other members of the public and Councilor Ashley Hill said they objected to criminalizing homelessness, having experienced homelessness themselves in the past.
One resident, Stephen Whitaker, noted that the homeless had “nowhere to go, nothing constructive to do,” and that there was a lack of adequate services for the homeless who were “expected to conform to the existing structure.”
“This is a human emergency and the can has been kicked down the road long enough,” Whitaker, said, adding that it would be helpful for the homeless to know where they could sleep without running afoul of the law.
Resident Vicki Lane said: “There’s nothing wrong with seeing the homeless people, the ill people,” and asked that they not be victimized.
But there were other business owners who said they were concerned that activities and behavior of the homeless were hurting their businesses and scaring off customers in a fragile economy.
Newcomer business owners Dan and Jodi Kelly, of Stonecliff Animal Surgical Center and The Garage Cultural Center, on the Heney Lot off State Street, spoke of seeing drug deals around their property and having to clean up feces near the building that they attributed to the homeless population.
“This is a huge concern of ours and probably one of our biggest challenges with opening new businesses in Montpelier right now,” said Dan Kelly, adding that he had also witnessed drug deals with school-age, young adults.
Jodi Kelly said she had also witnessed drug activity near the businesses where users were “scary stoned.”
“It’s a beautiful spot but it’s dangerous,” she added.
Rob Farrell, the new executive director of Good Samaritan Haven, also made an appearance at the meeting and said he was willing to support a task force and offered help to address homeless issues.
Rep. Mary Hooper, D-Montpelier, said she would work within the Legislature — which has already made funding available to warming shelters in Barre and Montpelier — to address the issue of homelessness in Montpelier.
The council agreed to take immediate action in forming a task force and include the homeless to address the problem.
BARRE — During a meeting before their regular Tuesday night meeting, city councilors huddled in the iconic Wheelock building and welcomed thoughts about what to do with the one-time law office and long-time senior center that last housed an antique shop.
Though it wasn’t unanimous, many in attendance expressed varying levels of support for Mayor Lucas Herring’s proposal to create a teen center in the back half of the now-vacant building, while creating a home for the Barre Partnership and the “welcome center” in the front.
However, even those who support the concept — including some familiar with teen centers — warned it would be a significant lift and that community buy-in was crucial.
Kreig Pinkham, executive director of the Washington County Youth Service Bureau, said fitting up the blank space to create a center where local youth would want to congregate was the easy part. Committing to sustainably staffing what could easily be a $100,000-a-year operation was more daunting.
“If you want a teen center, be prepared to commit to a professional teen center,” Pinkham said. “Don’t go half in.”
Pinkham said hiring a full-time director really isn’t optional and arranging for at least one other paid staff member was a necessity.
“There is a chicken-and-egg moment here,” he said. “The chicken is in front of you. Are you, as a community, ready to engage with the idea of a teen center?”
Pinkham said the answer must be definitive.
“If you don’t have the community on board, all in, eyes wide open about what it takes to really support a teen center that’s where it will fail,” he said.
The city-owned space, Pinkham said, was suitable and there are opportunities to leverage outside resources that could make a teen center more sustainable. One of them, he said, would be to create a drop-in resource center for youth that would be open when the teen center wasn’t and staffed by organizations — his own included — that already serve Barre youth.
Katie O’Day, who lives in Barre and runs a teen center — The Junction — in White River, echoed Pinkham’s assessment.
Volunteers were wonderful, but often unreliable, O’Day said, stressing the importance of paid staff to ensure an accessible well-run center. That comes at a cost — $100,000 at The Junction — and while the center is underwritten by a business — Listen — community support can’t be taken for granted.
“It’s a lot of work, but it’s so worth it to the community, whether the community sees that or not, it is,” O’Day said.
Others who expressed support for Herring’s idea, including former mayor Thomas Lauzon, ranged from enthusiastic about the prospect of pairing a teen center with the Barre Partnership to simply wanting to see a vacant space filled.
“I would love to see something in this building,” Amy Galford said, suggesting she could get behind co-locating a teen center with the Barre Partnership.
Councilors haven’t made up their minds what to do with the space. Sue Higby, who lost her Ward 1 council seat to John Steinman earlier this year, said they should ask.
“This is a resource that really demands a competitive response,” she said, reiterating her long-stated belief the council should formally solicit proposals for the space.
The council was headed in that direction before the March elections, but later shifted gears after two newly elected members — Steinman and Teddy Waszazak — and Councilor Rich Morey toured the property.
Waszazak said he wasn’t interested in selling the historic property and Morey and Steinman questioned who would buy it given the cost of upgrading it and conditions the council would place on the sale.
Though renting it is an option, it isn’t one some — including Councilor Michael Boutin — could support, putting Herring’s once-shelved proposal squarely back on the table.
Herring said he is eager to explore funding possibilities for the teen center, but needs a location first. Councilors held off on making a commitment until after inviting the community to weigh in.
Higby argued a warned meeting in the vacant building was a poor substitute for soliciting proposals and said she was aware of at least one person who was interested in the space.
Lauzon, a local developer, said he understands why.
“This is a great building,” he said. “It’s hard not to love it.”
Lauzon said that didn’t make it an attractive investment.
“Looking at it from a for-profit perspective, this would be a hard building to make money with,” he said.
Lauzon said he was supportive of Herring’s idea, but not opposed to Higby’s suggestion.
Hungry for feedback, councilors let residents do most of the talking this week. They plan to discuss the future usage of the Wheelock building when they meet next Tuesday.
BURLINGTON — A new building at University of Vermont Medical Center aims to greatly increase privacy and comfort for patients and families.
The $187 million Robert E. and Holly D. Miller Building opened June 1 after nearly three years of construction. It is named for well-known area philanthropists who have made significant contributions to University of Vermont Medical Center facilities.
The Miller Building will not increase the total number of patients that can be cared for, but will increase the number of private patient rooms from 30 to 90%, once current double-patient rooms also become private rooms after the transfer of patients to the new building. The older rooms will be refurbished to meet similar standards in the new building.
The project was approved in 2015 by the Green Mountain Care Board to address an “identifiable and existing need to replace inpatient beds,” some of which date back to the 1950s.
Medical center officials said the project would not increase insurance premiums in the state. Instead, the project was funded from working capital, $89 million in borrowing and $30 million in donations from employees, former patients and more than 1,000 households.
The new patient rooms will serve specialty surgery, cardiology, oncology and orthopedic patients.
With a total of 187,000 square feet of new space, each new patient room is 340 square feet, with a private bathroom and shower, and larger space for families with a pull-out couch for overnight stays. A bedside table device allows for control of television and room lighting, and access to the patient’s medical record, menus, daily schedule and educational materials. An electronic “whiteboard” opposite the bed provides up-to-date information on the patients and their care team.
Officials said studies show the new rooms allow for improved outcomes for patients, lower infection risk and lessen the need for pain medication. It also means fewer interruptions to sleep and patients are able to communicate more freely with their care team in a private room.
There are four patient floors with 32 rooms each and new facilities for caregivers with large spaces for computers, patient information boards and monitors where medical teams can collaborate effectively just steps away from patient rooms.
The new building will use half the energy of a comparable hospital facility. The first hospital in New England to use “dynamic glass,” windows automatically tint and clear with changes in the intensity and direction of sunlight, reducing heating and cooling costs. Recycled materials, such as concrete and insulation material made from old blue jeans, were also used to help complete the project under budget.
Hundreds of medical center employees and about a dozen patients and family members provided input for the project’s design and operational planning.
There was also a significant state economic impact from the project. Contracts worth $72.9 million benefited 39 Vermont companies, which comprised 76% of contractors involved and 341 or 86% of construction workers were Vermonters.
For Benoit Electric in Barre, the Miller Building was a major boost for the company with a $12 million contract.
“It was a very large project, a big job for us,” said John Benoit, company president. “We’ve worked non-stop with UVMMC for over 30 years.
“We do a lot of health care work around the state and we’re up for the challenge. There are not many opportunities to do a job like this and it was an interesting process,” he added.
Dave Keelty, director of facilities, planning and development at UVMMC, said much of the project’s success stemmed from careful design and planning, which included 3-D computer modeling that allowed for the careful integration of infrastructure and services, prefabrication of many components and reduced construction problems, time and costs. The outcome, he said, was a superior project that benefits patients, families and clinical staff.
“The main driver was to improve the patient/family and caregiver environment, to provide facilities equal to high-quality care that we deliver — that was the overarching goal,” Keelty said. “Secondary to that was to replace our oldest in-patient units and we did that — we got people out of units that were constructed in the ‘50s and ‘60s and we’re looking at repurposing those units.
“The third thing was to really try to provide the greatest number of private, single rooms that we could. The reason for that is we only had maybe 20%, at most, of single rooms and we wanted to get that up to 90%. There’s a lot of reasons for that: with patients that present with infectious disease, you have to take a double room and make it a single room, and that reduced the number of available beds,” he added.
For more information about the Miller Building, visit www.uvmhealth.org/medcenter/millerbuilding.
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump abandoned his controversial bid to demand citizenship details from all respondents in next year’s census Thursday, instead directing federal agencies to try to compile the information using existing databases.
“It is essential that we have a clear breakdown of the number of citizens and non-citizens that make up the United States population,” Trump said at a Rose Garden announcement. He insisted he was “not backing down.”
His reversal comes after the Supreme Court blocked his efforts to include the citizenship question and as the government had already begun the lengthy and expensive process of printing the census questionnaire without it.
Trump had said last week that he was “very seriously” considering an executive order to try to force the question’s inclusion, even though such a move would surely have drawn an immediate legal challenge.
But he said Thursday that he would instead be signing an executive order directing agencies to turn records over to the Department of Commerce.
“We’re aiming to count everyone,” he said.
The American Community Survey, which polls 3.5 million U.S. households every year, already includes questions about respondents’ citizenship.
Critics have warned that including the citizenship question on the census would discourage participation, not only by those living in the country illegally but also by citizens who fear that participating will expose noncitizen family members to repercussions.
Keeping the prospect of adding the question alive could in itself scare some away from participating, while showing Trump’s base that he is fighting for the issue.
Trump’s 2016 campaign was animated by his pledge to crack down on illegal immigration, and he has tied the citizenship question to that issue, insisting the U.S. must know who is living here.
An executive order, by itself, would not have overridden court rulings blocking the question, though it could have given administration lawyers a new basis on which to try to convince federal courts the question passes muster.
Trump had previewed his remarks earlier Thursday at a White House social media event, where he complained about being told: “’Sir, you can’t ask that question ... because the courts said you can’t.’”
Describing the situation as “the craziest thing,” he went on to contend that surveyors can ask residents how many toilets they have and, “What’s their roof made of? The only thing we can’t ask is, ‘Are you a citizen of the United States?’”
The Census Bureau had stressed repeatedly that it could produce better citizenship data without adding the question to the decennial census, which had not been done since 1950.
The bureau recommended combining information from the annual American Community Survey with records held by other federal agencies that already include citizenship records.
“This would result in higher quality data produced at lower cost,” deputy Census Bureau director Ron Jarmin wrote in a December 2017 email to a Justice Department official.
But Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who oversees the Census Bureau, ultimately rejected that approach and ordered the citizenship question be added to the census.
Trump’s administration has faced numerous roadblocks to adding the question, beginning with the ruling by the Supreme Court temporarily barring its inclusion on the grounds that the government’s justification was insufficient. A federal judge on Wednesday also rejected the Justice Department’s plan to replace the legal team fighting for inclusion, a day after another federal judge in Manhattan issued a similar ruling, saying the government can’t replace nine lawyers so late in the dispute without satisfactorily explaining why.
Refusing to concede, Trump had insisted his administration push forward, suggesting last week that officials might be able to add an addendum to the questionnaire with the question after it’s already printed. He has also toyed with the idea of halting the constitutionally mandated survey while the legal fight ensues.
Trump has offered several explanations for why he believes the question is necessary to include in the once-a-decade population count that determines the allocation of seats in the House of Representatives for the next 10 years and the distribution of some $675 billion in federal spending.
“You need it for Congress, for districting. You need it for appropriations. Where are the funds going? How many people are there? Are they citizens? Are they not citizens? You need it for many reasons,” he told reporters last week, despite the fact that congressional districts are based on total population, regardless of residents’ national origin or immigration status.
If immigrants are undercounted, Democrats fear that would pull money and political power away from Democratic-led cities where immigrants tend to cluster, and shift it to whiter, rural areas where Republicans do well.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer on Thursday called Trump’s efforts “outrageous” and accused him of pushing the question “to intimidate minorities, particularly Latinos, from answering the census so that it undercounts those communities and Republicans can redraw congressional districts to their advantage.”
“He thinks he can just issue executive orders and go around the Congress, go around established law and try to bully the courts,” Schumer said from the Senate floor. He predicted the effort would be thwarted by the courts.
House Democrats next week will vote on holding Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Ross in contempt for their failure to comply with congressional subpoenas investigating the issue.
Alarmed by last week’s change of course by the administration, the plaintiffs in the New York census citizenship case already have asked U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman to permanently block the administration from adding the question to the 2020 census. Furman has set a July 23 hearing on the request.
“It sickens me that this is the United States of America. We are so much better than this.”
Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington state, a former immigrant advocate, commenting on the Trump administration’s plans for a nationwide immigration enforcement operation this weekend targeting migrant families. B5
In the news
The Craftsbury Chamber Players begin their 52nd season with some traditional but challenging music. A2
A delay is announced for The Green Mountain Transit board’s rollout of its NextGen plan for central Vermont. A3
White House efforts to lower prescription drug costs hit some setbacks. A5
Vermont History Trivia
This family-friendly event. Put your knowledge to the test and learn some fascinating new Vermont history facts. Free with Museum Admission ($4-7/person), 1-2:30 p.m. Vermont History Museum, 109 State St, Montpelier, email@example.com, 802-479-8500.