Burlington City Council to consider new help for the homeless

Published: Feb. 7, 2022 at 4:33 PM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - New shelter options for the homeless in Burlington and a full-time employee to manage the city’s effort to address the housing crisis-- those ideas are up for City Council consideration Monday night.

In December, Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger announced a 10-point plan to address housing issues in the city. One point involved the creation of a community of pods. That plan and the nearly $3 million behind it, along with significant other resources for people struggling with homelessness, will come before the council.

Burlington recently received the responses to a citywide survey on how they should spend federal pandemic relief funds.

There was strong public support to put a chunk of the money to addressing the city’s homeless crisis.

The proposal before the City Council would dedicate $3 million of those funds on four items:

  1. $1.4 million to create and operate a low-barrier emergency shelter pod community.
  2. Develop and operate a low-barrier shelter downtown.
  3. Fund a full-time city staff position to oversee homelessness issues.
  4. Support the homelessness initiatives of the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity.

The shelter pods would range in size between 60 and 120 square feet and have electricity and heating. Communal bathroom facilities would be located nearby.

The city would also engage a community partner to oversee the project and help get people services.

“Are we going to solve homelessness right away? No, I don’t think we can. But are we going to start to make a difference and start moving the needle for a sizable chunk of the population? That’s what I believe we can do and we will do and we will have to do,” Burlington CEDO Director Brian Pine said.

Pine helped craft the plans which also will create a year-round community resource center where people experiencing homelessness can go during the day. It will be equipped with computers, phones and access to services such as substance abuse help.

“All the efforts that are ongoing among service providers whose focus is ending homelessness, all of it is excellent and providing good results. It’s just not enough,” Pine said.

The proposal to use ARPA funds for the initiative is expected to have broad support from the City Council.

Also coming up at Monday night’s meeting is a resolution brought out of the situation at Sears Lane.

The city has had a process for camping on public lands but it was never formally adopted into the actual city ordinances.

Progressive City Councilor Joe Magee says he wants to make sure it’s clarified where camping is allowed and to provide protections for those who need a no-barrier option.

“Sleeping outside is going to be the only option that works for some folks, so we need to have adequate protections in place and clear city policy for city staff to go about these actions with dignity and respect for campers,” Magee said.

One big question is where the pods and the new shelter would be located. CEDO says the city is aiming at land already owned by the city close to a bus line, such as an empty parking lot, to help expedite the process.

If approved by the council, the city says we could see construction starting in April.

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