Concerns raised about homeless encampment in Burlington park

Published: Aug. 22, 2022 at 6:00 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 22, 2022 at 6:58 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Concerns over camping in a Burlington park are again putting homelessness in the spotlight. Tents have been popping up in Battery Park, overlooking the waterfront and right next to the police station.

Just three stayed up during the day on Monday, but multiple viewers have brought these tents to our attention, citing concerns about safety and trash.

City officials say they are aware.

Whether they live close by, in the region or are just visiting, tents and the garbage-- including needles-- have caught the attention of people visiting Battery Park.

“It doesn’t look like the nicest place at the moment,” said Mike Snook of Burlington.

“I come through here and it’s people with tents and everything; it’s not safe,” said Isaiah Peters of Essex. “Uncomfortable and I think that they need to fix that.”

“I was just a little bit surprised-- around this park area I don’t see stuff like that,” said Ashley Socha of North Carolina. “It just makes me more cautious, just want to be a little more aware of my surroundings.”

Overnight camping is prohibited in all Burlington parks except the North Beach campground. But with the city’s population of homeless people swelling, tents are popping up in many places where they are not allowed, including Battery Park.

“I don’t want to be here but I’m homeless and I have no choice,” said a woman named Crystal who says she stays in the park and helps keep it clean.

Another park camper, Kevin Donaldson, shares a similar story.

Reporter Ike Bendavid: Are you living here right now?

Kevin Donaldson: Yes, I lost my house, lost my mom’s house, I lost my dog, I lost everything.

Donaldson says he just moved into the park a few days ago, and for those who don’t feel safe or don’t like seeing the tents, this is his message: “I’m sorry. Think about how you would feel if you were in that position. Think about would you rather be in the woods where it’s dangerous or out front where people can see you and your stuff doesn’t get stolen,” Donaldson said.

Burlington Parks and Recreation Director Cindi Wight says when someone starts to camp illegally, the city makes them aware it’s illegal and provides information on available services. But under the city’s policy regarding camping on public lands, they can’t just get rid of the tents.

“We try to do it from a very compassionate angle. Folks aren’t generally choosing to live outside in tents outside of a campground,” Wight said.

Wight says while these tents are highly visible at Battery Park, she is aware of other sites.

“It’s not just Battery Park,” she said, “we have a couple sites that are being cleaned up [Tuesday].”

As for a solution, she says it’s a community issue and points to the impact she feels the homeless pods will have when they arrive.

“When the pods are in place and we find someone that’s camping in a park, that’s one of the things we can say is that-- do you know about the availability of the pods,” Wight said.

Wight says there has been contact with some of the people in Battery Park. That’s part of the same process that was used last year when the city worked to clear out the big homeless encampment on Sears Lane.

The city will try to get these people the help they need and then clean up the area.

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