City installs fence at Sears Lane encampment
BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - A fence is going up around the Sears Lane encampment in Burlington, even though some homeless campers still haven’t left.
City workers began putting up the chain-link fence Thursday morning, two days after the deadline passed for the two dozen or so residents of the encampment to have packed up. “The intention of the fence is to keep the property... on the property, safe,” said Lacey-Ann Smith, a community affairs liaison with the city.
After initially letting the encampment grow over the spring and summer, Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger earlier this month said numerous issues, including illegal structures and arrests for drugs and guns, made the situation unsafe. He told everyone to get out by Tuesday.
“We believe that this wall, this fence, is inhumane,” said Ali Jafari, a local housing activist, who along with others, tried to stand in the way to prevent the fence from going up. “It keeps people from going to their homes. It makes it feel like a prison.”
But with the city now enforcing its policy on sheltering on public lands, the people living here do have to go. Earlier this week, the mayor said everyone had a plan for their next step. The Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity says only one person out of about 30 doesn’t know where they are going.
“It’s been a very fluid situation,” said CVOEO’s Paul Dragon. He says that most have opted to go to a hotel room, but that’s only supported for 28 days. “Hotels will work in the immediate future and then we have to work on long-term steps.
Reporter Ike Bendavid: But right now, after 28 days, there is no plan for the folks leaving Sears Lane?
Paul Dragon: What would the plan be? There is no permanent housing in Vermont.
Dragon says the campers can go out of state if they have connections. They are also looking to buy campers for some of the residents at a cost of about $10,000, but it isn’t known at this time where those campers would go. “There is no location that the city or the state has said, ‘This is a place you can go,’” Dragon said.
Back at the encampment, residents continue to pack up as the fence goes up. “There’s a lot of wishing it hadn’t come to this, but there are people who are grateful to have a room,” Smith said.
“If they gave you this option, they told you that you will get a motel room for 28 days and at the end of that we will bulldoze your house, would you accept that option?” asked Jafari.
There was a court hearing Thursday about an injunction filed to stop the eviction. The judge could decide by next week if it merits a temporary restraining order.
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