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Burlington Police clear out Sears Lane; 2 arrested

Published: Dec. 10, 2021 at 7:43 AM EST|Updated: Dec. 10, 2021 at 8:45 AM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - An October eviction order didn’t work, but by Friday all of the homeless campers at Sears Lane were gone after Burlington Police ordered them out and city crews tore down the camp.

Burlington Police arrived at Sears Lane early Friday morning to evict the handful of remaining residents. The camp was allowed to exist and grow over the past few years under the city’s Sheltering on Public Lands Policy, which acknowledges the region’s housing shortage. But in October the mayor determined the site was unsafe and out of compliance with the policy.

“Our goal in this has always been to make certain that the people in that site were safer than they were in the site. The site was not a place where conditions could allow continued habitation,” said Burlington Police Acting Chief Jon Murad.

The operation to shut down the camp and tear down the remaining illegal structures came nearly 60 days after the city served an eviction notice ordering residents to leave. Most accepted temporary housing weeks ago, but recently the camp started to grow again. “We were taking every alternative we could to take this action,” Murad said.

He says there were six people living in the encampment Friday morning and that two were arrested for refusing to leave. One had a warrant out for his arrest. A protester was also arrested for hindering the removal of the camp.

Campers and supporters were at a loss for words as the camp was flattened. “I’m very upset, said Gina Johnson, a resident. “I’m very concerned about people who fall through the cracks in the system.”

“Just shock and disappointment,” added Gray Berreda, another resident. “This is just taking a big bulldozer and running over what is considered non-human.”

“It’s what we expected, it’s what we were dreading,” said Steven Marshall, a homeless advocate.

Meanwhile, nearby residents say this final eviction was long overdue. “I can’t believe it, it’s about time,” said Jon Kirby, who lives across the street. He says the state and city need to step up to help the people involved, but he is happy the encampment is emptied out for now. “The lawlessness. It was a place where they didn’t have to follow any rules. There was no management there, they did whatever they wanted.”

Burlington Mayor Weinberger would not talk to us this week about Sears Lane. In a statement Friday, he said Sears Lane is a reflection of a systemic failure of our housing system. “As a community and as a region, we must and we can find a better way. Next week, the Administration will be announcing a series of new housing initiatives...” The mayor says he hopes “... by working together and with the community, the challenging and unfortunate events at Sears Lane ultimately lead to long-term progress towards housing truly being a human right for all.”

What those steps are remain unclear.

Related stories:

Population at ‘closed’ Burlington homeless camp growing

Burlington homeless encampment still occupied 5 weeks after eviction

City Council debates reopening Burlington homeless encampment

Two weeks after closure, Sears Lane remains occupied

Judge denies injunction trying to stop evictions at Burlington homeless encampment

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