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Voices / Viewpoint

Selectboard is hardly insensitive to homelessness

‘Let’s all work together, using democracy and dialogue — not demands — to keep the ultimate, long-range goal in mind’

Tim Wessel serves as vice-chair of the Brattleboro Selectboard. This piece was first published in the Brattleboro Reformer on Aug. 5.

Brattleboro

The Brattleboro Selectboard is a group of five volunteers who are committed to a healthy and vibrant town. If you’ve ever attended our meetings or watched them on BCTV, you know that we go out of our way to hear and acknowledge the voices of anyone who brings concerns or criticisms.

When our citizens come forward with reasonable initiatives, we are open to the ideas and we often act decisively in response.

That’s why we signed on to a compassionate city resolution after 82 percent of voters indicated we should do so.

That’s why we began a conversation about extreme poverty over two years ago when I first joined the board.

And that’s why this board has consistently guided and encouraged our police and fire departments not to treat substance misuse or homelessness as criminal, but rather to help struggling people find the treatment and/or housing opportunities they need.

Project CARE, a direct outcome of these discussions, is a great initiative taken by the dedicated Police Department. Our talented fire department continues to go above and beyond to save lives daily. Our municipal employees have all risen to meet these huge challenges — ones that are gripping our entire nation — with a level of clarity and compassion that I hope every resident can appreciate, and celebrate.

* * *

In the recent discussions surrounding the group that was protesting the treatment of the homeless citizens of our town, quite a few statements implied that your Selectboard is not sensitive to their needs.

I found this painfully ironic, since at our previous meeting, 10 days before the Homeless Revolution protest [“Housing, dignity, respect, and a place at the table,” News, July 24], we took three decisive actions to help support those who are struggling in our community.

• We signed off on installing three portable toilets on town property, because everyone needs a bathroom to use, and that’s the compassionate (and sanitary) thing to do.

• We voted unanimously to contribute an additional $100,000 from program income (federal money intended to support housing efforts) to the new Groundworks Collaborative shelter project.

• Finally, we were unanimous in our support for Work Today, a pilot jobs program. This groundbreaking, innovative effort will provide some income to anyone who is willing to do an honest day’s labor to improve our town, with hopefully more private funding partners to come in the future.

Now, you may disagree with any or all of these efforts, or have valid criticisms of some certain aspects, but what you cannot say is that this town is not trying or that we are not keeping the realities of poverty in mind.

Is every policy, or every employee, perfect? Of course not.

If mistakes are made, we seek to acknowledge them, to discuss remedies, and to make corrections so that hopefully those mistakes will not happen the next time.

If an initiative does not work, we’ll scrap it and try something else, then continue to work toward safe housing and essential services for all of our residents.

* * *

We all need to come to grips with the fact that these huge national problems face us here in town, that we have limited control over the many causes of poverty, and that our town has very limited resources with which to address these issues.

But it’s not hopeless just because it’s difficult.

Let’s all work together, using democracy and dialogue — not demands — to keep the ultimate, long-range goal in mind: A healthy, compassionate, economically sustainable, and resilient Brattleboro for all of us.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #523 (Wednesday, August 14, 2019). This story appeared on page D1.

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