Our Opinion: Complex problem generates many points of view

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Panhandling and drug activity in downtown Brattleboro have been a problem for far too long, and by many accounts they just seem to be getting worse. Downtown merchants are hearing complaints from customers who say they don't even want to shop here anymore because of the fear and anxiety they feel from aggressive panhandling and increasingly brazen drug activity. We are told that a prominent doctor who was considering a position at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital has backed out of the job because he doesn't feel the town is a safe environment for his family.

None of this bodes well for the businesses that are already hurting from high taxes compared to their tax-free neighbors across the river, and from the competition of online retailers as more and more people abandon the local brick and mortar stores.

Reformer staff writer Bob Audette has spent the last several weeks interviewing business owners, police, town officials and other stakeholders to get a comprehensive picture of the problem and what, if anything, can be done about it. Today's paper features the first in a three-part series that addresses this issue. We had to split the story up into three parts because it was just too complex to fit into one.

There is no shortage of opinions out there about what is causing the problem — from the full-blown health crisis of the opioid epidemic, to growing economic inequality, to lack of personal responsibility for one's circumstances and actions. There is also broad disagreement over who or what is to blame — running the gamut from lack of compassion and resources for the downtrodden population, to not enough law enforcement directed at the drug dealers, the addicts and the panhandlers. Long-time residents are saying the town has become a cesspool and they're angry because they don't see anything being done about it, while others argue that this is not a challenge unique to Brattleboro and that the town and various agencies are, in fact, trying to attack the problem on multiple fronts.

We urge our readers to take in all three parts of the story to fully understand the complexity of the issue and the many points of view, and to refrain from jumping on the negativity bandwagon without offering constructive ideas for real solutions.

As Select Board Vice Chairman Tim Wessel told us, those who don't think the town is doing enough should "come forward with new ideas, not vague rhetoric, and we'll discuss those ideas. ... Don't like the way your town is being run? Show up and change it."

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