Today in Rutland we are facing challenges similar to those in almost every town and city across the country. This doesn’t make it any less of our responsibility to address these issues, but it does give us the opportunity to consider solutions that have worked in other communities around the country.
From drug abuse to a rise in petty crime, these are symptoms of the problem that Rutland continues to grapple with on many levels: a lack of proactive leadership in city hall. The status quo is subject to gravity, meaning a city that may seem stagnant, is actually on a downward slope. The steps we must take to move forward require strategic planning, incorporation of data into decision making, and connected, collaborative leadership efforts.
These problems have not just appeared in our city. They are something Rutland’s residents have been victims of, and witnessed, for years. Homelessness, substance use disorders, and crime, have become more pressing because of circumstances over the last several years, including the impacts of Covid, and changes at the state level in how courts are treating offenders.
We know from the data that is collected by the Rutland City Police Department that criminal activity in Rutland has continually increased over the last five years. We know that at least 70% of people committing these crimes are struggling with substance abuse issues. While we see increased crime in our city as the problem, in reality there is a more difficult set of challenges that must be addressed. The symptom is crime; however, one of the main root causes is substance dependency.
So, how do we as Rutland City approach this head on?
I’ll start with what we can’t do. We cannot just ask the state for help, or hold out our hands hoping for a solution to fall into them; in essence, just wait for something to change. Communicating with the state and regional leadership is important, but it is not a one stop shop to address the challenges that we are facing in our community. Waiting on the state and regional leadership is not an answer either, as we will be waiting for far too long. Resolution, or at the very least addressing the issue, requires someone to take action.
We as a municipality must take that action locally. We must enact a plan to directly address these issues as a city, in a way that is reflective of the needs and challenges in our specific community. We must use the tools in our toolbox to fix the issues facing our city. We need leadership in city hall that will pursue a plan to coordinate those resources, and can be held accountable for the results. With that understanding, here are some of the things I believe we need to do:
First, we must meet people where they are at.
Project Vision was built for this purpose. With thanks to Commander Sheldon for his hard work over the last few years, and now having Commander Prouty back at the helm, I am confident that Project Vision is the right tool in our toolbox to lead the charge. As they continue to restructure, adding new staff to better serve the current needs of Rutland, we need to consider Project Vision as the tip of the spear. They are the piercing portion of our mission. They are boots on the ground. The team already knows, or has the ability to reach, many of the individuals tangled up in substance abuse and crime. Project Vision’s leadership understands the challenges these individuals are facing, and how that leads to poor decision making. We need to enable Commander Prouty and his team to lead these interactions, and guide Rutland’s process for addressing these challenges.
In conjunction with and through Project Vision, we need to engage, grow, and support every single community partner. These partners, who are state and federally funded, have the staff and resources to work with the Project Vision team, stay connected with the communities they are serving, and work their way towards treating the symptoms we are seeing, while city hall works on the larger issue of addressing the deeper problems.
City Hall needs to work collaboratively with local agencies and organizations to make sure the resources available to us are being properly engaged and deployed. If we provide structured opportunities for communication and coordination, we then have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of every Rutland City resident.
This will take a set of goals, a clear plan, and focused leadership to execute properly. I know that if we align our efforts, and fully use each tool we have, we can make a swift impact and a massive difference in our city.
Secondly, we need to stop blaming the issue on the hotel housing situation. This is the equivalent of seeing a bloody nose and saying it is the cause of a heart attack!
Yes, the housing system is broken. Using hotels is not a good long-term solution and it has been going on for far too long. However, the data from RCPD again shows that 10% of these hotel residents are causing issues in Rutland. That means 90% of the people staying in these hotels are not committing crimes in our city. Yes, the two situations are related, but one is not causing the other. Not by a long shot.
The housing situation needs to be resolved as its own issue, so that we can focus on the best path forward to getting these individuals safely integrated back into their communities and housed in a more permanent way. Stability for these individuals is critical to the future of our city as it reduces a financial burden on our region. We need to put our hotels back in order for business travelers and tourists to come stay in our city, and participate in our local economy,
Third, knowing that issues we are seeing in our city are not coming only from residents at the hotels, we must conclude that some people who live throughout our community are causing problems as well. That’s a hard fact, but a fact that once acknowledged can be addressed. We saw the raid on the Baxter Street home. We witnessed the Rutland City PD shut down the scene of many crimes that were taking place in a neighborhood of Rutland families that deserve to live in a peaceful, safe neighborhood. We saw that home condemned for its poor condition.
A majority of the homes and apartments where these crimes occur are in terrible shape and are a blight on the neighborhoods they are in. These homes are in serious disrepair and major issues go un-addressed by the landlords or property owners because there is little to no consequence for the lack of maintenance of the properties.
The city has the ability to establish a Board of Health, that would review these properties and assist in holding owners responsible for the upkeep and proper repairs. The BOH will also ensure that they are safe environments for people to live, and not a blight to the neighborhoods in which they are located.
Although this option has not been used by our current administration, this is one mechanism that is critical to the health and safety of our city as a whole. We must put this board in place, and hold property owners accountable for the safety and livable conditions of their properties.
The situation is frustrating. We are all aware of these challenges and we need to see a light at the end of the tunnel. We need a plan for what we can do as a community, and we need a person to lead who holds people accountable.
The general consensus in Rutland is that we care about each other. We all know someone who is struggling with substance use disorder. Most of us know someone who has died as a result. I personally have seen the most caring among us break down to pure frustration as of late, but I believe our care is not misplaced, it just needs focus and an injection of leadership, to be used as the proper tool that it can be.
We are a compassionate community, and a great deal of effort has gone into treating and supporting those with addiction issues, but we can not back down now; we must double our efforts in order to turn the tide.
Rutland deserves a leader that develops a plan, takes action and reports back to our citizens so that we can move our city forward.