BERLIN, Vt. (AP) — Criminal activity at a central Vermont motel that is serving as a homeless shelter during the coronavirus pandemic is straining the Berlin Police Department, according to its police chief.
“It doesn’t seem to be lessening, it just seems to be getting worse,” Chief James Pontbriand told the select board during a virtual meeting this week, the Times Argus reported. The Hilltop Inn has been the source of a range of criminal activity, from sex and drug offenses to disputes, with 46 complaints this quarter, compared to 41 last year and 12 the year before that, he said.
About 70 to 75 homeless residents are being housed at the motel, he said.
Pontbriand said he understands the need for a broader state program to provide temporary housing in motels for roughly 2,700 homeless residents for several months using federal emergency funding but says the program, while well-intentioned, was ill-conceived and underfunded, the newspaper reported.
Funding to offset the increased police overtime has been a challenge to find, said Town Manager Vince Conti.
“Our small (police) force is receiving nothing except additional calls,” Conti told the Times Argus on Tuesday.
A four-community collaborative, including the Berlin Police Department, was formed to address motel-related problems in Barre, Barre Town, Berlin and Montpelier earlier this year. The initiative covers the cost of 20 hours a week in law enforcement coverage across those communities, funded by the Vermont Department of Children and Families.
While the initiative was “making a dent,” the 20 hours a week is across four communities “not enough,” said Barre Police Chief Tim Bombardier.
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