Society & Culture

Hartford residents worry ‘sanctuary,’ trend to reduce drug penalties may attract homeless

by Aaron Warner

At Town Meeting this March, Hartford voted to become a ‘sanctuary city.’ Hartford is better known to most Vermonters for its unincorporated village of White River Junction. This decision to officially become more “welcoming,” and potential state legislation to decriminalize or legalize hard drugs, has led some Hartford residents to express concern about public safety and drug abuse.  

Last week, Joe Trottier, caretaker and resident of the Advent Christian Campground, discovered an unauthorized campsite in the woods on the property.  It was also reported that, in a nearby cemetery,  a similar abandoned campsite was found with needles left lying among the remains. 

It seems as though some wanderers saw fit to set up tents with camping gear and bags. The crew had the keenness of mind to bring a garbage can yet the carelessness to leave it along with piles of refuse strewn about the woods and other locations on the property.  In keeping with scenes in sanctuary cities out west, they also saw fit to mark the territory with graffiti.  

Mr. Trottier expressed his frustration with what he sees as policies that enable rather than encourage. 

“I’m all for giving people a hand-up, but it’s not helping anyone when we just give hand-outs.” 

The discussion with Mr. Trottier touched on the new trend toward decriminalizing drugs  in western cities such as San Francisco, Portland, Oregon and Seattle, and in their states.  The State of Oregon reports drug overdoses are up 70% this year from last.  

With hard drugs no longer made illegal in small amounts, swarms of users appear to have invaded once clean and mostly safe city blocks and turned them into drug-addled tent cities.  Proponents of this approach suggest it’s an understanding and merciful thing to do to unburden prisons from non-violent criminals.  However, the influx of drug users have created negative impacts on taxpayers, local business owners, and children. 

Trottier knows whereof he speaks.  Over forty-years clean and sober he has seen first-hand the devastation of drinking and drugs.  Living the wild and irresponsible lifestyle in his twenties and early thirties, despite having a thriving pool business, he lost everything including his marriage. 

“The Lord needed to humble me,” Trottier remarked remarked. “It’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Who wants to live in tent strung out on drugs anyway?” 

Sympathetic to their plight, Mr.Trottier understands the human condition and the desire to fill the pain or hurt of this life with the escape of drugs and alcohol.   

“There’s no future in it for them,” he warns with a note of compassion.  On the bright side, he’s gone on to a second successful career as a driver for area sports teams.  With Christmas right around the corner in this crazy year of the pandemic, Trottier’s life is a story of redemption. 

“Our town council doesn’t seem to understand this,” Trottier said. “They think they’re trying to help when really they will not only be enabling drug users to continue to disrespect public and private property. They’ll be hurting the rest of the town and its businesses if we allow this to continue.” 

In Vermont, deaths by opioid overdose are up 50% over last year. Homelessness has been impacted by less access to traditional shelters due to pandemic concerns, and by a housing affordability crisis. Time will tell if, in regard to drug use, drug laws, and the spread of homelessness, Vermont goes the way of west coast cities.

1 reply »

  1. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a ball field, a crack house or a “sanctuary” for undocumented non citizens, “build it and they will come” ! Is that what Vermont has devolved into ? These are not “progressive policies”, they’re just insane!

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