Letter to the editor: Action must be taken soon to help homeless

Middlebury’s public reflections and soul searching surrounding the issue of “homelessness” need to be channeled into some real world problem solving. This needs to happen very soon or we risk dividing the community into camps of those who express compassion and those who are struggling to openly and directly address some of the messier issues involved with our society’s neglect. If we do not quickly act to address and diffuse real concerns about lack of toilets and public defecation or small but highly visible numbers of disorderly individuals left to roam streets during the daytime because of a lack of social services for treatment of substance abuse or mental illness, our “homelessness” problem and the public discussions surrounding it are going to become more corrosive than they already are.
Not only will the community suffer, but the homeless will also be further victimized.
We put “homelessness” in quotation marks not to suggest that the problem is unreal or “so called” but to remind all of us that this is a far more complex problem. That said, it seems that there are clear paths forward on some immediate solutions. For example:
1) Portapotties need to be provided for the public at large, not just the homeless. European cities do this routinely as if it were a human right.
2) Middlebury Police Chief Tom Hanley spoke recently at a selectboard meeting about the need for a physician to certify those in need of alcohol abuse treatment. Without such certification these individuals cannot be helped. Police are currently spending valuable time and resources guarding them in hospitals, transporting them to other facilities, and are repeatedly picking up the same individuals. Our county is one of the few not having such an individual. This is an expenditure that would quickly return on investment as our now overburdened police would be able to return to normal public safety functions.
3) We as a community need to give a helping hand to “the homeless” and overworked shelter staff by coming up with a solution to where the homeless go during daylight hours when shelters are closed. The library, the town green’s gazebo, and stores are not a dignified solution for a population caught in cycles of neglect. Certainly we can come up with a walking accessible daytime location for the homeless to hang out in warmth and comfort, one ideally linked with much needed social services.
Let’s move quickly and with determination to problem solving rather than posturing and hand wringing.
Randy Kritkausky and Carolyn Schmidt
Residents of Whiting and owners of 29 North Pleasant St. in Middlebury

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