Burlington homeless camp to be shut down by week's end

BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) A homeless camp in Burlington will be shut down. Officials say they're closing the encampment on Sears Lane in Burlington's South End because they say it's not safe anymore.

People at the camp say they are frustrated and feel they have nowhere to go, but the city's police chief says this decision is to keep them out of danger.

"We're just trying to have a place to rest our head instead of on the streets," said Nicholas Walls of Burlington.

The city is still figuring out how exactly it will close this encampment on Sears Lane but says it will be done by the end of the week.

Nicholas Walls and Ashley Baker have lived here for five months.

"Yeah we're struggling," Baker said. "We need a roof over our head and this is it for now. We don't want to be out here."

The mayor says there have been multiple deaths at these camps since he's been in office. He argues the city is shutting them down to keep people safe.

"I think the city has a responsibility to act. We have seen some terrible incidents take place," said Mayor Miro Weinberger, D-Burlington. "There are very real public safety considerations that need to be brought to bear here and that is the foundation of this policy."

Burlington police say there have been reports of domestic violence, drugs, vandalism and a firearm dispute, as well as complaints from neighbors.

"The people that were here ruined it for us," Walls said.

"I don't want everybody to think we're all the same because we're not," Baker said.

Burlington Police Chief Brandon del Pozo tells WCAX News that those at the camp are trespassing, which is a crime. He said in a statement: "The city decides when to act on this law, as a matter of policy, by balancing compassion for people in dire straits with the safety hazards present at a given encampment." Del Pozo admits the region's homeless shelters are full but said his department isn't keeping people from moving to other encampments, as long as those areas don't become dangerous, too.

For Walls and Baker, escaping homelessness is a challenge. One they wish they had more help getting past.

"If they want us out of City Hall Park, want us out of the camps, where do they expect us to go? There's not enough shelters," Baker said.

"We've been on waiting lists. We've made calls," Walls said. "As far as the warming shelter, that opens up the first. Hopefully, we'll get in there."

The city says it will store valuable property left at the site for safekeeping. Police tell us those at the camp will be put in touch with service providers.