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Burlington takes steps to help ‘manage’ South End homeless encampment

Published: Sep. 16, 2021 at 5:26 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - The city of Burlington wants to increase oversight of a large homeless encampment operating on city property in the South End, including hiring managers to oversee it. But some neighbors are not happy with the improvement plans.

The city on Wednesday released a draft request for proposals to have oversight and management of the Sears Lane encampment, something that neighbors like Chris Flanagan, finds absolutely unacceptable. “I walk around here every morning. There are syringes - needles - garbage everywhere,” said Flanagan, who owns a building next door for 21 years. “We pay $12,000 a year in taxes here and this is what we get for it.”

Flanagan says he is struggling to sell or even rent the location next to Sears Lane. “All I got to say to the city of Burlington is -- what are you doing?” he said.

The city says having oversite of the encampment is a way to provide some level of management to increase safety at the encampment. “Basically manage a campground that would be an option for folks who are struggling in the current housing crisis,” said Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger.

“No one’s solution for the housing crisis is for people to sleep outdoors, but there are people who sleep outdoors because they can’t find and maintain and hold on to affordable housing,” said Brian Pine, the director of the Community and Economic Development Office.

Officials say the arrangement will be temporary -- until September of 2022 -- but the draft plan calls for additional development of the site, including regular surveillance, cleaning, running water, bathrooms ‚and even a WIFI hot spot. That comes on top of regular food donations.

“The idea is that there will be a basic level of services provided, but really the goal -- being to secure permanent housing,” Pine said.

There will be spots for tents, but current wooden structures will be removed because the city says they are a fire hazard. “The structures that are there will be eventually coming down,” Pine said. He says it won’t be easy, but the goal is to safely manage the site for all living in the encampment. “There will be challenges because people will be used to a lot of freedom and a lot of latitude.”

But neighbors like Flanagan say the enhancements will only serve to make the site more permanent. “Water, electricity, WIFI -- you say they are talking about next -- you are just going to attract more,” he said.

It’s still not clear how much the encampment improvements will cost the city.

The Burlington Police did not respond to a request for comment on whether the encampment has caused an increase in crime in the area or more frequent response calls.

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