Seven Days publisher asks how to fix Queen City’s problems of drug abuse and homelessness. VDC responds
By Guy Page
In Burlington, “Local social media is abuzz with photos and videos documenting the detritus of drug use and homelessness,” Seven Days weekly newspaper publisher Paula Routly wrote recently (“Burlington Blues,” Sept. 28).
“People are talking, but on the internet and in the privacy of their own homes. What I don’t hear are citizens and city leaders speaking up in an organized, forceful way to say the policies we have in place are not working. The emperor is not only naked, he just took a dump in front of the old YMCA,” Routly said.
“Our problems may be the same as those in cities — especially progressive-minded ones — across the country, but the number of lost souls per capita in Burlington is staggering. There are times of day on Church Street when it seems like more people are in the throes of substance abuse, mental illness or both than those going about the business of working, shopping and eating.”
Routly appears to get it. Then she follows up a reference to the growing number of protective barriers with a provocative question: “Fences might help, but they won’t fix these problems. Does anyone know what will?”
I’ll take a stab at that, Paula. If you’re reading this, feel free to publish the following as a ‘letter to the editor’ from this fourth-generation Burlington-born Son of the Queen City who graduated from Burlington High School and UVM, worked for the Free Press on College Street, founded a community newspaper in the New North End (“The North Avenue News,” still in publication but not by me), attended church on North Avenue for almost 30 years, and bought my first home on Spruce Street, a condo, for $40,000, less than 40 years ago.
To: Burlington voters, government, media, and the next mayor
Subject: 10 suggestions to reduce drug abuse and homelessness in Burlington
1. Do a 180-degree turn and show zero tolerance for retail theft. If you don’t, prepare to see drug overdoses continue to skyrocket while your tax base moves to Essex Junction.
2. Stop afflicting landlords with deadbeat protection, climate fees, and threats of rent control.
Stop scapegoating the Handy family, the 184 Church Street owners who merely offer the lowest rent in town, for the housing and crime disaster caused by decades of ignorant, negligent state and local legislation. Do keep building housing, though. The City’s getting that right.
3. In exchange for shelter, require remedial effort from homeless residents. For their sake and ours, they must face the root cause(s) of their predicament. If substance abuse, require sobriety or rehab. If mentally ill, require outpatient, non-chemical therapy. Etc.. Just offering services is faux compassion when what’s really needed is intervention. Quid pro quo.
4. Enforce the law, which exists to protect victims. Street social workers are great, but hire more cops, too. Elect a prosecutor who prosecutes. Elect legislators who will fire ‘easy’ judges when they come before the Judicial Retention Board. If necessary, build more prison cells. Set high bail.
5. Make vagrancy and prostitution illegal again. You’re surprised that in a city that decrimmed prostitution, oral sex is happening out in the open in broad daylight? Hmmm….same thing happened a few weeks ago in prostitution decrim Montpelier.
6. Insist our Congressional delegation act to intercept fentanyl at the border – with a wall if necessary. For some reason a porous border appeals to them. If they won’t change, elect someone who will. Because whether at the Chittenden County Courthouse parking lot or the Mexican border, fences do help.
7. Stop apologizing for crooks. If they did the crime, they gotta pay the fine or do the time. Regardless of skin color, gender, or perceived victim status.
8. Determine if the perception is true that a fraction of the city’s New American young men commit a disproportionate amount of Burlington’s violent crime. If they do, say so and find out why and develop effective, realistic short term and longterm solutions.
9. Spend less taxpayer money on ideologically precious programs (DEI, net zero) that don’t fix these problems and more on programs that do (cops, accountability for services, transitional housing).
10. It’s a longterm fix, but change the prevailing version of Destructive Educational Instruction (DEI) in public schools and at UVM. Affirm racial tolerance and civility without silencing, shaming, and suspending skeptics.
Sea-changes are disorienting. Painful. Expensive. Sure to elicit outrage and accusation from the city’s rulers and their sometimes unwitting followers. But you know what they say about the definition of insanity. If you want Burlington to look like Philly and San Francisco, then stay the course. But if not, be honest, humble and brave enough to create real change. The rest of Vermont is watching.
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