Commentary: This is not the Brattleboro I grew up in
Born in Vermont, my family moved to Brattleboro when I was 3. This was a family-based community. Children could walk to school ot to the Yellow Store for a treat without parents having to worry about their safety. There were many communal areas like the Common Ground, where hippies roamed and made sure their neighbors bellies were fed. The farmers market was a bustling place where you could drop $10 and have a wonderful meal while listening to an eclectic array of music, knowing you'd run into friends and family at every stand.
This is no longer that place. Sure, the basic bones of our town are still here, intact but frail and thin. There is an echoing of free spirit vibes and friendly soul. It is an echo from the past. The hippie blood has been gutted and drained from this town. This voice is wavering, it's dying down. The echoes are now lies.
I am not quite sure when it first started, but I can tell you when I first noticed the change.
When a town charges its poor a skyrocketing price of $15 for three garbage bags, which break almost immediately, you end up with people who cannot afford keep their homes clean. They are breaking bank just to maintain a basic human necessity of cleanliness. Changing the pickup to every other week gives wildlife an extra seven days to tear through and scatter litter all over our streets.
Second, we have a awful infestation of bugs called slumlords, people who break housing laws knowing full well that their tenants are far too poor to fight them over and over in court. They ask for insane amounts up front, keep apartments in unappealing conditions knowing full well there is absolutely no one else for that tenant to rent from. When you end up with a notice of "terminating lease" because again, these parasites never seek a legal eviction, you find after vacating that the landlord is keeping every penny and charging the tenant for basic wear and tear. I have spoken to a woman who, having left an apartment in near-mint condition, was relieved that she only "owed" the landlord $500. Yes, he kept her entire deposit as well.
Money has become a "God" to this town. When you worship money as a false idol your "devil" becomes the poor. I see it everywhere. Restaurants complaining about panhandlers. People moaning about why the homeless aren't living in the shelter. People are starving and food shelves have changed policies, allowing families to only visit monthly instead of weekly. People are barely able to survive and Brattleboro only cares about hunger once a year, filling the Brattleboro Food Shelf during November. Happy Thanksgiving.
Yes, there are services in place. I have a wake up call for you, Brattleboro. Every single one has lost almost all funding due to the Trump administration. There is no longer government assistance to pick up the people fallen on hard times. They have been thrown aside the garbage that litters the streets of low income housing areas. These people matter. They have families, children with empty stomachs. They aren't objects to be discarded away because you don't like seeing them.
Open your eyes, Brattleboro. The stereotype of "lazy poor" is just that, a stereotype. People in poverty are some of the hardest working people you will ever meet. They do absolutely everything they can to stretch every penny and get by.
For someone with money going on a grocery run is hopping into your Subaru, driving down to the Co-op, dropping between $300 and $500 on organic foods and loading them into your reusable bags. You may even buy a pre-cooked chicken or order a smoothie while you leisurely stroll around the beautiful store.
People in poverty do not have this pleasure. They have to work around the bus schedule, go to the most inexpensive store in our area, bring along every coupon they have clipped. Anything they were unable to pick up from their monthly food shelf stop is purchased with a low amount of food stamps aka 3Squares. You are allowed $1.90 per person in your family per three meals a day. Could you survive on that?
After you shop, you have to wait for the bus to come back around, which could be an hour or more. Until recently, a taxi could be used at $20 a trip. Have you ever hauled bags of groceries on and off a bus? Imagine doing so with a walker or wheelchair. Imagine doing this with a toddler.
This hatred towards the poor is absolutely inexcusable. It is not only inhumane, it is classist at its core. You hate on people who cannot escape a system that traps them. You hate on them for not being "fiscally responsible" and blame them for robberies, drug overdoses and begging.
You should be hating the system that creates such an everlasting misery that people find their only escape is illegal substances, taking from others and having to ask over and over for help.
In the wild, often a young or injured elephant becomes trapped in a mud pit, unable to escape. A horrible starving death surely awaits them. Do the elephants leave them behind? Explain from atop the pit how they should have been more responsible, not fallen into the hole to begin with? No. A larger, stronger elephant will climb into the hole. It stands behind the trapped elephant. It pushes them, with all of its might to the surface and out of that hole. Then, it grabs that elephant's tail and the stronger elephant also climbs out of the hole.
These are your people Brattleboro. They are suffering. They are trapped in mud, turning into fossilized skeletons — yet another casualty of this awful black pit that Brattleboro has become. What will you do, Brattleboro? Will you be less humane than wild elephants?
Brattleboro, your white privilege and classist attitude is showing.
Whether you take these words of advice and truly do something to further prevent the decay that has taken over southern Vermont, I ask you to please, extend those hands. Help people out not just on Thanksgiving or Christmas. Make this year round. Pick up the people our current government has thrown aside.
Be like the elephants.
W.J. Ambrose lives in Brattleboro.
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