Burlington approves turning Champlain Inn into homeless shelter

Published: Oct. 8, 2020 at 1:45 AM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - The city of Burlington has a new plan to house the homeless this winter.

The Burlington City Council Monday unanimously approved a zoning change that would allow the Champlain Inn on Shelburne Road to become a 50-bed low barrier shelter for the duration of the COVID state of emergency. The goal is to give the city’s homeless population a place to live and safely quarantine during the pandemic.

“It’s going to be supervised much more than the inn is currently supervised. It’s going to provide more services, so I think it’s really all a plus for the community,” said Councilor Joan Shannon, D-South.

WCAX News spoke to homeless people in downtown Burlington on Wednesday to get their opinions on the plan. Many of them said they want to seek shelter at the Champlain Inn once it transforms into a shelter, but they say they’re tired of the city offering temporary solutions and then throwing them back onto the streets. They’re urging city leaders to come up with a permanent plan.

Alex Olsen, Angie Justice, and Shawn Odell are no strangers to the streets. It’s been months since they’ve had a place to call home. As the temperature starts to drop, they say they can’t keep living like this. “We have to cuddle every night just to stay warm and it’s like, male, female, whatever, I’m just like, ‘okay, body heat,’” said Olsen. “We can only stay out here for just so long.”

This wouldn’t be the first time the city has offered temporary housing to the city’s homeless population. This summer, the city, state, and Anew Place teamed up to set up nearly 30 single-occupancy campers at North Beach Campground.

“Mine was like the Taj Mahal,” said Olsen. “It was so beautiful and so nice. Brand new with a pop-out, leather couch and two leather recliners, and Tempur-pedic queen-sized bed. It was so sweet.”

But after two months, the campsite shut down. Some of the guests got into another hotel, while others were sent packing. “I was pissed and sad. Like, what?” said Justice. “This is what you did— you set us up in the (expletive) Taj Mahal. Sorry about my language. And you rip everything out from up under us and tell us to scatter and survive? No. Who the (expletive) are you? No, that’s not okay.”

It’s unknown exactly when the inn will transform into a shelter. The resolution that the city council passed states that a typical zoning amendment process takes at least three months, which councilors say is too long to wait, so we can likely expect the shelter to be available sooner than that.

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