Op/Ed

Letter to the editor: Zoning can help housing issues

On Tuesday, I attended a talk by Heidi Lacey, director of Charter House Coalition (CHC). According to its mission, CHC is dedicated to providing food, housing and services to unhoused people in and around Middlebury, Vt. I am a person who lives in Middlebury, and fortunate to have a comfortable place to live in day and night.

Heidi let us know that affordable housing is incredibly hard to find in our region. While we know that there is a dearth of housing stock, I hadn’t realized that zoning laws impede efforts to find creative and sensible solutions. We need to change zoning laws so that empty spaces and land can be used flexibly and effectively when needed.

She also let us know that people find themselves without walls for many reasons. Losing jobs, eviction, divorce, domestic violence, trauma history, mental illness and substance use all can be contributing and confounding factors. These are all things that could happen to us, to our children, to our parents.

Our unhoused neighbors are our neighbors. They deserve our attention, our action and our admiration, not our fear or disdain. Notice the resilience, the survival savvy, and the amazing strength of just showing up day after day — admire that! And if you go to the Rec Park to walk your kids to school or to play on the courts and fields and find yourself looking away, or steering your children clear, or in any other way trying to tell yourself that the unsheltered folks you see don’t exist or are to blame for their problems, just ask yourself — what if that was my child? Or my mother? Would I look away then? Would I want others to?

So this is a shout-out to the CHC for its mission, gratitude to the AAUW for hosting the lecture series on Polarization, and a call to those reading this to make room in our hearts for all neighbors, housed and unhoused, and to make it easier for agencies to keep people warm and safe by advocating for and supporting changes to zoning laws.

Jennifer Stefani

Middlebury

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