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Population at ‘closed’ Burlington homeless camp growing

Published: Dec. 9, 2021 at 6:16 PM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Seven weeks after a homeless camp in Burlington was ordered closed, neighbors are demanding answers. Not only is the Sears Lane camp still inhabited, its numbers are growing.

The encampment sits on city property just off of Pine Street.

At the end of October, the city told the dozens of people living in the camp they had to leave. The city worked with most of them to find state-funded hotel rooms.

Nearly seven weeks later, there are about eight people still living inside the encampment.

“Frustrating, yes, absolutely,” said Chris Flanagan, who owns property next to Sears Lane.

After initially letting the encampment grow over the spring and summer, in October, Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger said numerous issues, including illegal structures and arrests for drugs and guns, made the situation unsafe and ordered the camp residents to leave.

“It really has to end,” Flanagan said.

He believes the folks that are still in the encampment rejected the hotel program for a reason.

“They don’t even want to be in a hotel because they are free to do what they want here. They couldn’t do that anywhere else,” Flanagan said.

Winter weather usually drives people out of homeless camps. But in Sears Lane, there are structures and generators keeping residents warm and out of the elements.

“This is sanctuary. Sanctuary is very warming even in these temperatures,” said Gray Barreda, a Sears Lane resident and spokesperson.

Barreda says folks are coming back because of the community, even as the temperatures drop.

“There are people who are actually coming back down here from the hotels,” Barreda said. “The isolation is more hostile than the cold.”

Barreda says he wants to continue the conversation with the city about keeping the camp open.

“We are not looking to win in the courts; we are looking to be able to have this conversation with the city on how... what the next realistic steps for our community can be,” Barreda said.

Flanagan says the city started to move forward and stopped.

“All it would take is the city of Burlington to actually step up to the plate and doing something. No one is doing anything; that’s the problem,” Flanagan said.

I reached out to the mayor several times for comment on what’s next and was told he was not available to comment on the issue.

It is important to note the city told me a month ago, a few days after the shutdown, that there was only one person living in the encampment. Thursday, I was told there are at least eight people living there.

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