By Michael Bielawski,
The City of Montpelier is not going to take initial action regarding a homeless camp between State Street and the Winooski River not far from the high school. Also, the executive director of Good Samaritan Haven, which is a homeless shelter located in Barre, says he’s never seen so many homeless.
“Oh it’s definitely worse," said their director Rick DeAngelis in a phone interview on Wednesday evening. “I don’t know what’s happened in recent years, it’s just the worst it’s ever been. I’ve been working in housing my whole career and it’s a long career and I’ve never really seen anything like this before.”
The camp could be seen last week off to the left near the river bank while driving away from the city center. It is mostly blocked from view by a large tarp facing towards the road.
VDC reached out to the city councilors as well as the mayor’s office. The mayor’s office provided a policy document that outlines how any homeless camp is to be dealt with. It can be read here.
“The City of Montpelier and its staff shall take a general non-involvement approach to any found emergency sleeping camp sites, with the particular lens of not criminalizing people creating shelter due to a lack of housing,” it states.
It continues that they can intervene if public safety issues arise.
“The City must balance the rights of individuals who are emergency sleeping against its fundamental duty to maintain public safety, public health, and environmental protection. If a City staff member encounters or receives a complaint of an encampment that may be in a high-sensitivity area or have public health or safety findings, they will notify their department director, the City Manager’s Office, and the Police Department,” it states.
Good Samaritan Haven
When it comes to approaching an encampment directly, the city outsources that task to Good Samaritan Haven. DeAngelis spoke more about the scope of the problem.
“There’s a lot of people living outside, there’s a couple that are staying right there and we know them and we are in touch with them, we estimate that in Washington County there are probably 80 people who are outside in some way, shape, or form,” DeAndelis said. “I mean this is really a problem all over.”
The Cemetary Commission shared concerns at a recent City Council meeting that the location was unsafe and they offered the couple a different location within the cemetery.
The couple declined the offer because they will need snow plowing to get their car on the road, meaning they are planning to stay through winter. The woman living there also spoke at the meeting to explain their situation.
DeAngelis said they help the couple with supplies and generally keep in contact to ensure they are OK. He said that they “have one of the better setups” that he’s seen.
He said this is not an isolated case and there are more encampments in the area that are lesser known or seen, including at least one woman who’s already camped through two winters.
He added that they are starting up their winter seasonal shelter on Nov. 13, and the state still has its hotel room program from the COVID era that is being continued with funding by the state.
The city’s policy ensures that no encampment will ever be abruptly told to leave unless there is an emergency.
“Except when urgent health and safety concerns require shorter notice, encampment residents will be given 24 hours to relocate or accept an offer of shelter or alternative housing if such referrals are available,” it states.
The homeless are getting older
Good Samaritan Haven shares on its site another problem that is exasperating the homeless situation.
“Nearly a fifth of Vermonters experiencing homelessness during the state’s most recent headcount were 55 or older, according to a VTDigger analysis. Advocates say they face daunting risks and challenges,” their blog post states.
The post highlights the story of a 69-year-old college-educated and well-traveled woman who saw a series of misfortunes in her life bring her into homelessness.
Burlington a destination for the homeless
The Queen City up north is still the focal point for homeless people who want hot food, medical services, and more. Founder and vice-president of the Ethan Allen Institute John McClaughry wrote in a commentary back in May highlighting this fact.
“Burlington is most acutely aware of the problem since, as one prominent Burlingtonian accurately observed, “Burlington has all the services – you can get excellent medical care, three hot meals a day and be around the action. So that’s where the homeless congregate.”
The author is a reporter for the Vermont Daily Chronicle