Homeless population maintain Battery Park occupation

Published: Oct. 2, 2020 at 4:30 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - The protesters may have packed up, but there are still tents in Burlington’s Battery Park, where the city’s homeless population continues the occupation.

Days after protesters announced their departure from Battery Park after a 5-week occupation, The site is still home to tents, garbage, and people.

“Half the people about homeless,” said Abdillahr Hassan, who says he was among a group of homeless that have camped in the park along with the protesters. He says he never marched with the protesters in their fight against police brutality and racial injustice but was a part of the community. “They were here having shelter themselves and have food.”

“As they did throughout, the protesters made an attempt to clean out the park,” said Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger. “I know there are still some tents there. My sense is some of the people who are camping there are people who have real housing challenges. And as we always do, we are going to work with them and see if there is a way to help them access resources and get to a better place.”

With colder weather on the way, Vt. Agency of Human Service Secretary Mike Smith says that there will be resources available for those in need. “We are trying to move people into permanent housing but that’s not going to happen overnight. So, you will see the hotel/motel program continue through the winter months,” he said.

A proposal by the Scott administration over the summer aimed to help the homeless and transition away from the $48 million hotel voucher system. Housing advocates agree that’s the way to go in the long run.

“Our goal is to help them start a path towards stable housing,” said Travis Poulin, director of Chittenden Community Action with the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity. He says they have seen an uptick in people looking for housing during the coronavirus pandemic and right now that means hotels.

This past week the Holiday Inn in South Burlington housed 130 people in need of shelter. As of Friday, there are around 160 after they started to move people out of the North Beach Campground. Poulin says federal Cares Act funding has created a unique opportunity to solve chronic housing problems. “Right now we have a level of funding that we have never had before to try to address the issue of homelessness in Chittenden County,” Poulin said.

He says some shelters are starting to open up, but under strict rules because of physical-distancing. “They are not able to serve the same volume, so yes, there will be more people staying in motels right now.”

The Burlington Police Department did not respond to a request for comment on whether they plan to start enforcing no-camping rules in the park.

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