BARRE — A proposal to funnel $17,000 in pandemic-related federal funding to Aldrich Public Library for a “welcome and warming center” that opened earlier this month generated some heat as the public portion of Tuesday night’s City Council meeting was nearing an end.

Amid questions raised by Councilor Michael Boutin and some since-resolved uncertainty expressed by City Manager Steve Mackenzie, the council increased and then approved the recommendation of the city’s Homelessness Task Force moments after being blasted by former mayor Thomas Lauzon.

A virtual participant in the meeting, Lauzon noted the absence of key players, including Library Director Loren Polk and Rick DeAngelis, executive director of Good Samaritan Haven, while describing the funding request from the task force as “simply incomplete.”

Then Lauzon lashed out.

“Damn it, I’m frustrated as I watch this council,” he said. “Your job doesn’t exist on damn Tuesday night, your job exists 24 hours a day and these are people who need your help, so why don’t you do this, why don’t you recess this meeting for 24 hours, get your act together, get the people in the room who can help the homeless population and make this a damn complete application and make an informed decision.”

Lauzon’s outburst prompted Councilor Teddy Waszazak to return fire.

“For Mr. Lauzon to attest that the Homelessness Task Force has not done its work, or that any city councilor regards this as a Tuesday night gig, is absolutely untrue and it is a hell of an (assertion) to make,” said Waszazak, who serves on the council, the task force and the library’s board of trustees.

Waszazak went on to note that while Polk wasn’t able to make the meeting, she had attended all meetings of the recently formed task force and wrote the job description for the $20-an-hour part-time position that accounted for most of what started as a $15,000 funding request.

“The director of the Aldrich Library (Polk) has been involved in this proposal since day one and helped craft the very proposal and the job description that is here,” he said, citing a private meeting he attended with Polk, task force member Brooke Pouliot, and the Rev. Carl Hilton-VanOsdall, representing the Barre Interfaith Group.

“The homework has been done,” he said.

After listening to a presentation that relied heavily on second-hand information — including some that seemed contradictory — Lauzon said he wasn’t satisfied and the council shouldn’t be either.

“For folks to be representing what the position of the homeless shelter is, or what the position of the library is, or what services they may or may not offer, it’s just not appropriate,” he said, suggesting those organizations should be part of the discussion and the council should have a clearer idea than he had of what services would and would not be provided.

“I don’t see that as inappropriate, and I’m sorry if other people do,” he said.

Lauzon’s comments came after Boutin questioned the plan to create a warming center for homeless residents in the basement meeting room of the library instead of across town at Good Samaritan Haven’s existing shelter on North Seminary Street.

Boutin also noted the task force proposal was developed before Gov. Phil Scott recently announced that, starting Monday, all homeless Vermonters will have access to free motel housing until at least March 1.

Boutin said his strong preference was to provide additional funding to Good Samaritan Haven for the same purpose. He said the fact that DeAngelis wasn’t invited to participate in the conversation was concerning.

Waszazak and other task force members defended their library-centric recommendation.

Tammy Menard said those who stay at Good Samaritan Haven are required to leave first thing in the morning unless the state’s cold weather exception kicks in.

Though that exception has been waived this winter along with the expansion of the motel voucher program, Menard said she worried there wouldn’t be enough rooms at area inns to accommodate central Vermont’s homeless population.

Even if there are, Pouliot, the community outreach specialist for the local police department, said some will end up outside this winter.

“A (warming center) would benefit them in so many ways,” she said. “This is an important thing to happen.”

What exactly “this” is was less than clear based on a back and forth that prompted Lauzon to interject.

Though Waszazak welcomed Scott’s decision to expand the motel voucher program, he said “a room and a place to stay” was a good start, but didn’t provide important services he said could be delivered by the proposed position at the library.

Herring said that was at odds with an email from Polk.

“‘At this point, staff will not be providing any services during the warming center time,’” Herring said reading from Polk’s email, which indicated service delivery would be “beyond the potential scope” of the proposed position.

That said, Herring acknowledged the potential of leveraging state support to provide services at a warming center that will be open in the library’s Milne Room from 8 to 11 a.m. weekdays and from 8 to 10 a.m. Saturdays. The start time coincides with the time — until next week — Good Samaritan Haven is required by its permit to require guests to leave the shelter and the end times coincide with the library’s regularly scheduled opening.

Hilton-VanOs dall, who didn’t attend Tuesday night’s meeting, said Wednesday the “warming space” at the library opened Nov. 1 and has been staffed, largely by volunteers, on the six-day-a-week schedule outlined in the proposal. Thus far, he said, between three and eight people a day have taken advantage of the extra hours to get out of the cold and charge their phones.

According Hilton-VanOsdall, the vast majority are those staying at Good Samaritan Haven.

DeAngelis said Wednesday the Barre-based homeless shelter will shift to its winter schedule next week — providing a daytime option for those who spend the night.

Hilton-VanOsdall and DeAngelis said they were supportive of the warming center at the library and the council’s decision to fund it.

“I’m glad that they did it,” DeAngelis said.

Mackenzie’s concern the proposal might not be eligible for some of the $2.3 million the city received under the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), suggested it could be financed with a portion of a year-end surplus if need be. On Wednesday, Mackenzie received confirmation the proposal is eligible for ARPA funding.

Though Boutin voted against the task force’s recommendation he stressed he wasn’t opposed to the amount of money involved or the proposed use, but believed the same problem could be solved by working with Good Samaritan Haven.

The council’s approval sets the stage for hiring the 20-hour-a-week position, which will be responsible for overseeing and clearing the warming center in the Milne Room through mid-April.

Roughly $13,000 of the newly approved appropriation would be used to pay for the position. The remaining $4,000 is available for “discretionary spending.”

The flareup over the warming center came nearly three hours into a meeting that saw councilors briefly discuss potential changes to city’s tax stabilization policy and revisit a resident’s concern over traffic-calming improvements that were promised in 2019 and only partially completed.

Councilors also receive quarterly updates from Barre Area Development Corp. and the Barre Partnership.

david.delcore @timesargus.com

(2) comments

Garrett Grant

Oh good, another article where we hear about Thom Lauzon's opinions of everything. And to those of us who do know what is going on, we see how little Thom knows about what is going on around this issue. Yet he remains unchallenged in these articles. It's almost as if he owns the building The Times Argus is housed in or something...

BernR

After reading this report of Tuesday night's City Council meeting, the strong language of "Then Lauzon lashed out." I am wondering if his admonition of City Council, of the Homelessness Task Force, aren't all a calculated "payback" for his NOT being appointed to the City Manager Search Committee. His public comments degrading City Councilors because they do NOT take orders from him, serve what purpose? From the article, it appears the task force was represented and the proposal is indeed supported by many of us in Barre City. I agree with Councilor Waszazak, “For Mr. Lauzon to attest that the Homelessness Task Force has not done its work, or that any city councilor regards this as a Tuesday night gig, is absolutely untrue and it is a he!! of an (assertion) to make,” said Waszazak... At a time when folks are exhausted from COVID concerns, the extra burdens upon our community, and the meaningful and important work being done on behalf of City residents, I am appalled to have another resident aggressively seek to undermine their diligent work, instead of being a positive presence and support. That is what real leaders do.

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