Re: The most recent fail of the Montpelier Homelessness Task Force, the permits issued last week to relocate Guertin Park Shelter merit some context.
Absent alternative lodging arrangements for those regularly sleeping at the Guertin Park, a few who may even have a legal right of tenancy requiring the city to file formal eviction proceedings, compassionate caution is in order. The homeless do not have $300 for an appeal fee nor an attorney. This deliberate act by the city amounts to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the U.S. Constitution, in my view.
Yanking this minimal shelter out from under these unfortunate homeless persons prior to any effort at all being extended toward creation of alternative semi-private or better equipped sleeping and hygiene facilities, is both punitive and unconscionable, more evidence of the disingenuous agenda of the city of Montpelier to pay lip service to help the unhoused while, in reality, trying to make them more miserable or run them out of town.
The city is similarly declining to enforce the explicit lease terms on Green Mountain Transit for use of the transit center. These lease terms require the two restrooms be available from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. every weekday. GMT has been leaving the bathrooms locked from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. every midday to save on staffing costs despite being granted millions of dollars in coronavirus relief funds.
Some desperate folks recently resorted to defecating along the multi-use path and in the garbage enclosure under the DownStreet apartments. GMT has also not been challenged on placing padlocks on all the outdoor electric outlets to prevent charging of cell phones. One DownStreet tenant has on multiple occasions turned vigilante on homeless folks and disconnected their phones charging on the parking lot lamp post while screaming that the Montpelier residents should “go back to Barre.”
These exemplify a pattern of cruelty, neglect and misguided management by Montpelier officials and even citizens. The general manager of GMT revealed that City Manager Bill Fraser had agreed in a conversation to let him skate on the lease requirement for bathroom access in consideration of the staffing expense (triggering employee benefits), in effect, ignoring the Montpelier residents’ and visitors’ needs for restroom facilities or simply “throwing us all under the bus.”
After at least four pleas to the City Council, Parks Commission and the Homelessness Task Force and a full six weeks after the fire chief had determined that Guertin Park Shelter was a health hazard due to accumulated urine, vomit, dog food and both human and animal feces, neither the Parks nor Public Works Department has made any effort to power wash the Guertin Park Shelter despite the hygienic risks of its daily and nightly use for eating and sleeping, respectively. Let’s not forget to mention excessive drinking.
The recent “Taste of Montpelier” food festival necessitated early dumping of all the trash cans along State and Main streets, while the two sets of cans along the multi-use path, where the homeless congregate and have labeled “Homeless Blvd,” were already overflowing and left that way over the weekend. In combination with the soiled wastepaper, smeared human feces eventually flung toward the river and the smells, this exemplifies yet another “Taste of Montpelier” as “America’s most mismanaged small-town capital.”
Stephen Whitaker resides in Montpelier.