Vermont's hidden homeless camps - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Vermont's hidden homeless camps

South Burlington, Vermont - June 29, 2011

You might never know it but when you drive along the Williston Road interchange there are homeless camps all around you.

That's where we found Artie Hill-- a former diesel mechanic who now is on disability.

Reporter Gina Bullard: So what are you doing out here?

Artie Hill: I'm having a drink and smoking my whatever but I'm not homeless.

Hill was homeless for years until an advocate helped him find housing. He now comes back out to where he once lived and reflects.

"For one thing it's my church," he said. "But I come back here because I love nature and it reminds me of what I went through."

He was the only one in this patch of woods in South Burlington, but in a camp just across the street it's a whole different world. There are driveways and paths leading to tents and even more advanced structures with windows. They even have their own landfill.

"People are prepared for winters. They have tents, heat and depending on how bad the winter is people can survive it pretty well," said Matt Young, an advocate for the homeless.

For an outsider coming in it was almost like organized chaos or a commune.

"Many people are very discreet when living in the woods," Young said.

Young is a community outreach leader working for the HowardCenter. Part of his job is to reduce the reliance on the police when it comes to the homeless population. He was on Church Street in Burlington checking on a homeless man he had received calls about.

"Some people are not interested in staying out of trouble, getting jobs, being housed. So we see if we can meet people halfway," Young said.

Bill, who didn't want to give his last name, has been homeless and on the move for 20 years.

Bullard: Where do you stay?

Bill: Every night's different. It's where America lets you stay, not where you want to stay.

He says he doesn't need to panhandle.

Bill: It's a society based on money.

Bullard: How did you get all that money?

Bill: I'm lucky. I receive assistance.

Bullard: From who?

Bill: The government.

He gets disability checks and says 90 percent of that money goes to food.

Bullard: Where does the rest go?

Bill: Clothing.

Bullard: You're not wearing any. (Referring to Bill being shirtless)

Bill: Well, it was stolen.

Young says that homelessness in Vermont is a serious problem and it's getting worse.

"We need more transitional housing and the numbers grow every day, so it's not easily managed," Young said.

Gina Bullard - WCAX News

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