Op/Ed

Letter to the editor: Some words depicting the unhoused are ‘unwanted’

“Unwanted person.” That is the term twice used in the Addison Independent’s Middlebury Police Log to juxtapose the interest of a business and the presence of a human being. The term “unwanted campers” was used in an apparent conflict between another property owner and other people.

I am confident that no harm was intended in the use of these terms. The writer was simply trying to describe a difference between an entity that is desirable in the Middlebury community and others that are presumably not.

The vandalism and destruction described in last week’s Middlebury police log are deplorable. Property was damaged and destroyed. As the law-and-order President Ronald Reagan once said about individual people who break the law, “it is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his (sic) actions.”

The “unwanted persons,” “unwanted campers,” the destructive perpetrator, and several other subjects of the Middlebury Police Log are unsheltered homeless people living in our community.

Vermont gets lots of attention for having the 2nd/3rd (depending on California’s status on any given day) highest rate of homelessness per capita. Like many other areas, Addison County lacks adequate affordable housing, access to mental health services, and responsive substance use disorder treatment and recovery centers. Our hospitals are overburdened and our homeless shelters are overflowing.

A statistic that does not garner much attention is that Vermont has the lowest rate of unsheltered homeless people per capita in the country. Why? Because Vermonters come together to work hard problems.

Addison County has some of the most compassionate citizens anywhere. The compassion and commitment to justice of our county’s medical professionals, law enforcement, human service workers, educators, elected representatives, and business owners are demonstrated every day in the way they consistently relate to the inherent worth and potential of every human being.

If we are going to successfully address the challenges of poverty, homelessness, mental illness, substance disorders, and disenfranchisement in this county, we will do it together. Citizens reaching out and connecting with other human beings. Individual accountability to the law? Yes, when equal justice dictates. But we must call out as wrong terms like “unwanted person” that threaten to split our community into “us” versus “the other.” That is not the Vermont my family chose to raise our children in, and it is not the America we combat veterans fought for.

I listened to a homeless man shouting at a business owner and police officers last week, “Do you think I want to be here?! Do you think we want to live like this?! We were just looking for a place to rest!” Whether they are under the Cross Street bridge, deep in the woods, or in a shelter, homeless people carry the stigma of failure and shame everywhere they go. Yet if you look in their eyes, you will see someone’s child or parent or grandparent or sibling. We risk losing part of our humanity when we start seeing anyone as an “unwanted person.”

Tom Morgan

Panton

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