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City scrambles to find solution to growing Burlington homeless camp

Published: Apr. 21, 2021 at 5:25 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Concerns are growing over a homeless encampment in the South End of Burlington and city officials are scrambling to figure out what to do about it.

On what some people would say is the wrong side of the tracks, a homeless encampment on Sears Lane has been building for the last few years. The site is just a quarter-mile from busy Pine Street.

Shacks and huts are scattered across a community with tents and tarps, some a work in progress.

On the ground, garbage is strewn about like the aftermath of a tornado.

Those who live there say it’s a struggle but also a sense of freedom.

“One, it sucks, but two, it’s all right because we got a place to put a tent up and don’t have to worry about being pushed out,” said one resident who didn’t want to share his name.

Some of the setups even have a generator, powering plastered together shelters with security cameras. Some in the encampment showed us inside their shacks.

The man who declined to give us his name says he lives in the encampment with dozens of other people.

“A lot of people think there is a lot of drugs and s*** down here but, you know, it’s a lot of people down here have jobs and work. We are just trying to clean it up,” he said.

But the encampment is alarming for some in the nearby Lakeside neighborhood. People there told me they have been concerned about the encampment but they didn’t want to go on camera to talk about their experiences citing fears of retaliation and their safety.

Others say they are not as bothered by it.

“I mean there’s some loud noises, there’s some fires going on, but we live next to a train track,” said Amanda Kirby of Burlington.

As neighbors say more people are joining, the mayor believes the camp is not growing with more people but with more garbage.

“I think that’s been part of the sense of it growing is the accumulation of items that are now being removed,” said Mayor Miro Weinberger, D-Burlington.

Right now, there is no plan to remove the camp as has been done in other parts of the city. The mayor says the city will continue to work with people living in the encampment to help find long-term solutions.

“I am hopeful that we could find a way to balance the public needs to ensure safety and public health,” Weinberger said.

I’m told city councilors and the mayor’s office are in communication to discuss this issue but right now there’s no set plan for the city to step in or remove the encampment.

Burlington Deputy Police Chief Matthew Sullivan said they have responded to various complaints related to the camp. He said most of the people living there are resistant to services and not interested in permanent housing. They see it as a lifestyle choice.

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