Burlington neighbors react to homeless pod proposal

Published: Mar. 11, 2022 at 5:09 PM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Dozens of Burlington’s homeless could have a new place to stay starting this summer. City officials on Thursday released plans for a $1.47 million proposal to put a shelter pod community in an Elmwood Avenue parking lot in the city’s Old North End.

Burlington officials say that by July, the parking lot will be transformed into a secured enclosure with about 30 pods that can house upwards of 40 people for the next three years. The neighbors we spoke to didn’t know about the project until we told them.

“Something they should have involved us in. They should have pulled together the neighborhood and talked to us about this,” said Richard Seagroves, a local resident.

“I’m just hearing about it,” added Kathleen Coonrod.

Soon, they’ll have a birds-eye view of the homeless shelter pod community. Coonrod says she welcomes the project. “If it’s going to be used to house homeless people rather than just cars -- in general -- I’m down with it,” she said. “I can’t possibly say that it’s a problem for me.”

And while Seagroves stresses the city must help house the homeless, after seeing the Sears Lane encampment deteriorate, he has some serious concerns about officials keeping potential problems under control. “If it’s going to get out of hand. You’re going to have drugs come in, crime go up, pollution, noise,” he said.

The project is part of Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger’s 10-point plan to reduce homelessness in the Queen City that he announced after shutting down the Sears Lane encampment in the South End last fall.

Out of 10 possible city-owned sites, the administration largely picked this parking lot for its access to services and readily available resources. Both the GMT bus station and Feeding Chittenden are short walks away in either direction and Spectrum and the Howard Center are also right around the corner.

“This is a temporary solution. So, we wanted this to be something you can kind of pop it up quickly and take it down quickly without a whole lot of investment,” said Brian Pine, director of the city of Burlington’s Community & Economic Development Office. Officials say individuals will submit applications and be admitted to occupy one of the 30 pods for as long as they need on the condition they are complying with the community rules.

The pods will be outfitted with heating, air conditioning, and electricity and will have access to a shared bathroom and kitchen facility. Drinking alcohol will be allowed.

Pine says the pod community is intended to serve as a bridge between homelessness and housing.

Reporter Christina Guessferd: Why didn’t you consult with neighbors to ask them how they were feeling about this?

Brian Pine: We’re still in the early stages. So, I would say that process needs to... that’s the next step is talking to neighbors.

Pine says the city hopes to host a community meeting where officials can address questions and concerns. Some local residents say they’re confident the city will limit disruptions in the neighborhood. “Maybe we should start taking responsibility for our people, and that includes the homeless,” said David Call, a neighbor.

And some prospective pod residents we spoke to said they’re looking forward to the launch in July. “I wanna live over there. If you have one for me, I’ll be happy,” said Jngoyi Ksonjo, who has lived in Burlington for 10 years.

There are still plenty of questions about the project, including who will manage the site and how will the city determine who is eligible. The idea first needs approval from the Public Works Commission before going before the City Council. After that, the city will file for zoning and wastewater permits. And after three years of pods, officials hope to build a more permanent shelter or temporary housing on this site.

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