[Hpn] [Chittenden County] Prosecutor Proposes Free Apartments For Some Homeless Alcoholics

Morgan W. Brown morganbrown@gmail.com
Wed, 2 Aug 2006 08:17:16 -0400


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Tuesday, August 1, 2006
WCXA - Channel 3 TV - News
[Burlington, Vermont]
Prosecutor Proposes Free Apartments For Some Homeless Alcoholics
http://www.wcax.com/Global/story.asp?S=5227122&nav=4QcS

Burlington, Vermont - August 1, 2006

Vermont's busiest prosecutor is proposing a radical new policy to deal
with worst case homeless alcoholics. State's Attorney Bob Simpson in
Chittenden County says it makes more sense to take them out of prison
and place them in publicly financed housing. As an example, Simpson
mentioned one man who has resided in Burlington as a homeless
alcoholic for more than 40 years. Police have dealt with him more than
1,200 times for offenses such as public drunkenness, public urination,
petty theft, and simple assault. He has single-handedly cost taxpayers
hundreds of thousands of dollars for services from the courts, to
health care. He is in prison today, serving yet another short sentence
at a cost to taxpayers of $112 per day.

The Chittenden County Prosecutor says it's time to try something else.

"There are some people who are a tremendous problem for the community
who should not be in jail," said Simpson. He is stepping down this
week after ten years as the elected State's Attorney in Chittenden
County, a tenure that earned him a reputation with police and trial
lawyers as being tough but fair.

Simpson says it makes no sense to continue to house the county's hard
core homeless drunks in prison. That costs $43,000 a year. He says
getting them a room at public expense would cost far less.

"They stay in the room, they drink, they do what they want, but they
don't cause problems for the community," said Simpson. "People like
this basically mend their ways."

His proposal has worked in communities like Seattle. This year, that
city placed 75 of their most incorrigible drunks in publicly-funded
apartments. City officials say it IS working because the alcoholics
are staying off the streets.

Simpson says he believes there are only two to four candidates for the
free apartment program in Chittenden County. He says homeless
alcoholics from other states tempted to come to Vermont expecting a
free apartment would not be eligible.

"There's a core group of anywhere between two to ten individuals at
any given time that are on the street that are picked up by the police
three times a week," said  Matt Young, a Howard Center Street
Counselor, who has worked with homeless people on Burlington's Church
Street for six years.

He supports the free apartment proposal in concept, but worries that
homeless people with mental health issues will wonder why they are not
eligible for a free apartment.

"They would like to win and anything other than winning they would see
as losing and unfair," explained Young. "It may cause problems, but I
don't think it should stop us from trying something new."

"We haven't had a chance to study it in great depth," said Burlington
Police Deputy Chief Mike Schirling.

Schirling says for now, the proposal simply has too many unanswered questions.

"I think clearly the taxpayers in Burlington would have to weigh-in on
what would the cost to the taxpayers here locally be? Who would foot
the bill?" he asked.

For now, it is only proposal. Simpson says he imagines the bill would
go to the Department of Corrections. But again, this is not yet a
proposal before any government organization -- just an idea that is
working elsewhere.

Brian Joyce - Channel 3 News

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