Quite a few influential people, among them Winston Churchill, Harry S. Truman, and Pope John Paul II, have publicly noted that a society is measured by how it treats it weakest members.
One of the things I love and admire about the state of Vermont is that, for the most part, those who might be considered the “weakest” citizens — those with the least financial or political power such as children, the elderly, and those with a low income, to name a few — are cared for fairly well, both by public and private institutions.
No, it’s no utopia in Vermont, but people generally look out for one another, from day-to-day interactions all the way up to the governor’s office.
As we saw post-Irene, most people looked beyond so-called differences and helped one another, whether that meant a contractor offering his time and earth-moving machinery to rebuild a town’s entire road system or a college student donating her time and muscle to helping one family dig mud out of a mobile home.
It’s one of the reasons I’m looking forward to moving back to this state. Where I live in New Jersey, the governor has decided taxpayers’ funds are better spent on an indoor ski slope in the Meadowlands than on subsidized mammograms for low-income women. Here, if you’re poor, it’s your own fault, and by the way, you can go [insert explicative here] yourself.
Not so in Vermont, thank goodness.
However, the pride I feel in my (soon-to-be-again) state has tarnished a bit lately. That’s unfair, though. It’s not the state that has disappointed me. It’s the town of Brattleboro, and the way they’ve handled the Melrose Terrace issue.
I use the term “issue,” but for the 26 people who have been waiting to get back home to Melrose Terrace, it’s not an “issue” — it’s their homes and lives.
The people who live in Melrose Terrace are elderly, disabled, or both. These are the people whom society has an obligation to look after. It’s part of the social contract of a civil land. And those who run the town of Brattleboro have broken that contract, and they haven’t been forthcoming in how or why this happened.
From what I’ve been reading in the news, they act as if the public has no right to know the process by which it was determined the 26 residents of Melrose Terrace should remain homeless.
These are not 26 second-home owners who can just stay in their other houses until this all gets cleared up. Not 26 young college students who can just go home to mom and dad until the town decides what to do next.
No, these are 26 lower-income people of advanced age and/or limited mobility who have been given the runaround by the same town where many of them have paid taxes (and contributed to the community in other ways) their entire lives. Many still do.
In a town where low-income housing is in high demand and “affordable housing” is a joke that’s lost its punchline, the fact that 26 elderly, disabled people have been rendered homeless is a disgrace. And the fact that the town has offered, as The Commons’ editorial [“When government gets in the way,” Nov. 2] stated, “baffling confusion and inconsistent, opaque accounts of the events that led to work coming to a standstill at Melrose Terrace”is absolutely shameful. it should be criminal.
It’s time for the town, and the town manager’s office, to come clean about what happened to Melrose Terrace, and, most importantly, to allow these 26 people to get back into their homes and back to their lives, in safety, security, and comfort, which is what they deserve.
Anything less simply isn’t good enough if we are to continue operating under the illusion that we live in a town that cares for its “weakest” citizens.
Brattleboro town officials, please do the right thing, and do it quickly.
Wendy M. Levy
Jersey City, N.J.