Governor Peter Shumlin devoted his entire State of the State message to the heroin crisis in Vermont. Rutland, a city of 17,000 in central Vermont is doing something about it. It has addressed its fight about heroin in the same way addicts do when they try to stop using–by admitting there is a problem.
The city realized it could not arrest its way out of addiction nor expect the police alone to handle the multiple issues that result from drug abuse like domestic violence, child abuse, and burglary.
The police have come to view addiction as a disease, not just a law enforcement issue and have joined with social service providers to take a coordinated approach to homes with multiple problems. They mapped service calls to detect patterns of arrests and identified a 10-block zone in the city as its most critical “hot spot.” Then they knew where to target help.
To focus attention on the drug problem, Rutland applied for a $1million federal grant from the Department of Justice which it did not get, but that didn’t stop them. They organized a community-wide coalition of concerned citizens and government agencies into “Project Vision”. Their overarching goals are to revitalize the 10-block target area, strengthen neighborhoods, and reduce substance abuse.
Part of the drug problem lies in the conversion of single-family homes into multiunit rentals which are breeding grounds for a network of out-of-town drug dealers and users. It is estimated that about $2million in heroin is trafficked every week in Vermont.
Project Vision has articulated specific goals: The police want to cut residential burglaries in half by the end of the year and Project Vision intends to reduce the number of blighted homes in the target zone to 15 from 21 by rehabilitating or razing them. Mayor Christopher Louras has been going door to door to talk to neighbors as work crews install brighter streetlights. Real estate businesswoman, Linda Justin has “adopted” a square city block and has been meeting with residents every Sunday to build relationships and clean up houses.
Project Vision is a work in progress but it has enlisted the citizens of Rutland to take action. Kraus said, “Nobody’s proud that we find ourselves in this circumstance. But we confront our problems and deal with them.”