This is the unedited version on the letter that I wrote to the Reformer. (They always seem to cut a handful of sentences.) I don't usually get involved with politics, write letters, or post things on ibrattleboro, but this issue of cutting services that will especially hurt those with limited income or disabilities was too upsetting for me to ignore.
In reconfiguring the Brattleboro budget, I think that it is imperative to not cut services that will engender more hardship for middle and low income people. I am especially concerned about the funding for our library.
Brooks Memorial Library serves a diverse population from a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds. As a person with low income who values self-education and research, I rely upon the library for nonfiction reading material that I would not otherwise be able to afford. Other people with limited income depend upon the library for free access to computers, newspapers, books, movies, talks, and research assistance. People who are homeless or struggling to pay their bills, rely on the library to warm up in the winter and cool off in the summer. People with mental health issues, or those with developmental disabilities, spend a lot of time at the library because there are so few places for them to go. These vulnerable populations blend in at the library and are able to find meaningful activities to engage in there.
One bitter cold day this winter I arrived at the library before 10 AM. I stood in painfully cold temperatures with a number of homeless folks, while we waited together for the library to open. I felt immensely grateful that my suffering lasted a mere 5 or 10 minutes, and that I had a home to return to. I also felt grateful that our town has an exceptional library that offers a warm and welcoming place for anyone in need. I don't know if it is part of their job descriptions, but I have seen librarians handle unstable and difficult patrons with diplomacy and respect. Once I watched a librarian remain extraordinarily patient and kind as she spoke at length to a loud aggravated man with dementia, who repeatedly demanded a particular book.
I even wonder if the services that we now have are enough. Ideally the library would open earlier and stay open for more hours. I am embarrassed to admit how many times I've arrived at a locked dark library on a Thursday morning, only to then remember oh yeah it's Thursday and the library doesn't open until 1 o'clock. For me it's a small inconvenience, but for those who are suffering and vulnerable, a few hours may make a big difference.
Other town services may impact limited income people more than those with greater means. People who can't afford a car, or those dependent on wheelchairs and scooters, may incur more hardship and risk if sidewalk plowing is reduced.
I'm not familiar with specific park and recreation activities that may be eliminated, but sometimes when a summer camp program is cut, it can result in some hungry kids roaming the street, who no longer have activities to do or lunch to eat.
It's counterproductive to cut services that struggling people need. It may only serve to increase problems in other ways. The health and vibrancy of our community may rely more upon the strength of our library than we realize. From a broader long-term perspective, a thriving library and ample recreation programs may help reduce our town's drug, drinking, and crime rates. Cut enough services and those issues may increase. I believe that the health of our town is reflected in the care and kindness we extend to the weakest and most vulnerable among us. We are all more connected than we think.
(Heidi) Arena Israel
May 4, 2014
Arena Israel lives and works in Brattleboro. She provides care and support for elderly people and young adults with developmental disabilities.