1 man arrested in drug raid at Burlington homeless encampment

Published: Oct. 13, 2021 at 12:00 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 13, 2021 at 7:09 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - One man was arrested on drug charges Wednesday when police raided a Burlington homeless encampment OK’d by the city on public property.

The camp is located in the city’s South End just off Pine Street.

Neighbors have complained about noise and safety issues at the camp. Now, an arrest there for methamphetamine is raising new issues.

Wednesday morning, law enforcement filled the Sears Lane homeless encampment. Multiple Burlington police officers and ATF agents conducted a search.

Police say Robert Renner, 49, was arrested for selling drugs.

“It’s been a lengthy investigation,” Burlington Police Det. Sgt. Mike Beliveau said.

Beliveau says they’ve zeroed in on a camper and its surroundings for the last month.

“We found methamphetamine and firearms, and we made an arrest,” Beliveau said.

Police say as of now there is no evidence of manufacturing meth at the camp, only selling it.

Investigators spent the morning combing through and bagging up evidence like backpacks and jars of marijuana.

Reporter Ike Bendavid: One meth arrest today. Is this the end?

Harley Berry: No, it’s not, but I would like it to be the great beginning to the end.

Berry lives across the encampment in a trailer.

“I’m glad it happened,” Berry said. “I would like all the drugs gone out of there so the people that don’t do it can live in peace and quiet.”

He used to live in the encampment and knows some of the people who live there. He says many of them just want to be off the grid.

“There are decent people in there and there are a few that are really bad. So, luckily, some of the bad got weeded out today,” Berry said.

The arrest is welcome news to nearby businesses that say they deal with constant issues from the encampment.

“It’s a battle we deal with on a daily basis and would love to see it cleaned up,” said Sean Sweeney of Able Paint, Glass & Flooring.

The drug bust comes on the heels of the city announcing that no one responded to their request for proposals to manage the site. The mayor sought that help as a way to keep the camp on city property to help manage the city’s homeless.

“Like many cities across the country, have this city-owned property play a positive role in the terrible strain of that crisis,” said Mayor Miro Weinberger, D-Burlington.

But with no one offering to run the site, the future is unclear. Even the mayor’s closest allies like City Councilor Joan Shannon, who represents that section of the city, says the encampment should come down.

“The situation at Sears Lane is not legal,” said Shannon, D-Burlington City Council. “It needs to be removed. It’s not legal on many levels.”

Even the mayor says his patience is running out.

“It’s confirmation of really unacceptable activity happening on that site,” Weinberger said. “I think today’s arrest is a step toward ending that and there will be further steps to announce in the days ahead.”

As I worked to report on this story for you Wednesday evening, a group of people came and harassed me at the homeless encampment. They blasted music, revved cars nearby and shot exhaust onto our WCAX News van. I called the police and WCAX called the police.

Then, I saw a man with a gun. I don’t know if it was real or a BB gun, but that’s when we left the area. Police had not yet arrived, although we did see an ambulance show up and quickly leave.

It’s important to note that I have reported there several times before and I have been verbally harassed but nothing like this. Also, remember this is public property and anyone should be able to go on it any time.

My experience is what neighbors have talked about since April-- loud noises and unruly behavior.

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

South End encampment to be managed as ‘temporary’ home for homeless

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Burlington officials tour homeless encampment to address trash issue

Weinberger says homeless camp trash ‘unacceptable’

City scrambles to find solution to growing Burlington homeless camp

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