Best Place Forward: Embrace New Vermonters!

A recent Herald commentary promised to identify the root cause of homelessness in Vermont but did not deliver. Its author, an otherwise talented musician, bombarded readers with a tedious one-note paean focused on his presumptive superior status as a “multi-generational Vermonter.”

Among his numerous discordant notes was his excoriation of visitors who end up buying homes here as “… rich people … buying up houses and land at unimaginable prices or building huge houses as second homes.”

Not only are these blatantly inaccurate and sweeping fallacies, but the author also failed to cite any factual empirical data to support his allegations or, for that matter, any evidence of his professional experience or acquired expertise regarding homelessness.

Instead, he resorted to a distorted deprecation of our state, comparing Vermont to the sinking of the Titanic, and insulted his readers, implying that we are all passengers on a sinking ship of fools.

Unlike the dysfunctional crew depicted in Plato’s “Ship of Fools,” few Vermonters — regardless of where we were born and raised, whether we’re newcomers or multi-generational — would appreciate having anyone yell “mayday” at us, albeit figuratively, as if we’re all too deaf and dumb to know the facts.

First of all, a lot of people who live in Vermont, or work in Vermont, or vote in Vermont, or who contribute in some way to Vermont’s charities and educational institutions, consider ourselves Vermonters. To castigate Vermonters who were not born and bred here by portraying us as selfish interlopers, is beyond shopworn stereotype; it’s blatantly hostile.

Secondly, as the author acknowledged, some Vermonters who bought houses here after falling in love with Vermont, did so decades ago. We have worked exceedingly hard to build valuable and thriving careers, here and elsewhere — as health care professionals, educators, builders, architects, attorneys, accountants, artists, business owners and other honorable professions — to pay for those homes as well as contribute to Vermont’s economy.

In fact, very few of us are what anyone, anywhere, would call “rich.” That fractious fiction is like a proverbial broken record, an earworm that civilized Vermonters are weary of tolerating.

Census data, state and local legislators, law enforcement officials, health care professionals, and housing experts, as well as diversity, equity and inclusion advocates, tell a different story, summarized as follows.

Vermont has the third oldest population in the country; retirees, many of them multi-generational Vermonters, are shuttering dairy farms, country stores, restaurants, produce stands, retail boutiques and other revered lifestyle businesses their offspring would rather sell than continue to operate.

Even before COVID, many of our downtowns were being displaced by retail giants whose presence, while appreciated by some, does not foster the small-town community ethos associated with Vermont. Ironically, that is the very reason many out-of-staters want to move here — with the hopes of starting small businesses, just as many Vermonters before them.

Yet, last Saturday’s commentary writer implied that such a warm and cozy ethos can be perpetuated only by those born here, bred here, and descended from many generations of like-minded people — i.e., those who look like them, think like them, and act like them. If that isn’t a dangerous whites-only dog-whistle, I’m not sure what is.

To be clear, many of us know Vermonters who are facing food insecurity, homelessness and other crises — some of them, repeatedly. However, the unpredictable tide of people who become houseless or are otherwise relegated to dwellings that are not of their preference, is due to countless threats that are out of their control. They include sudden job loss without any immediate income; health crises that insurance won’t cover; loss of a main breadwinner; and persistent mental health issues.

All the more reason why it’s essential that Vermont attracts talented individuals who can build new lives and new businesses here, as well as launch, fund, staff, and expand valuable community initiatives that will help remediate the challenges many Vermonters continue to face.

What all Vermonters, regardless of their birthplace, experience or expertise, should be loud and clear about is that falling in love with Vermont, enough to move here, work here, and raise a family in this best place forward, is, in fact, music to our ears. If we don’t, then the same people, preaching to the same choir, singing the same old blues, over and over again, will sow even more discord. And soon, the sound of one hand clapping may be the only other thing we’ll hear.

Liz DiMarco Weinmann lives in Rutland.

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Liz DiMarco Weinmann

Founder | Creator | Owner: B.E.A.M.-Impact Generator©