South Burlington approves policy regarding encampments

Published: Dec. 19, 2022 at 11:49 PM EST
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SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - South Burlington city councilors on Monday approved a new policy for homeless encampments.

The policy is being implemented to ensure fairness when it comes to removing homeless encampments. In it are guidelines for if, when and how these makeshift shelters should be cleaned up. It also encourages police to take a non-involvement approach. The exceptions are if there is shelter available or the encampments become unsafe.

“The intent of this is not to criminalize encampments or houselessness or homelessness,” City Attorney Colin McNeil said. “We based our policy largely on what Portland, Maine, has done. They based theirs on what Tacoma, Washington, had done. The policies they’ve adopted seem to be working well in their communities and it’s a similar structure we’ve adopted.”

This comes as the state’s transitional and emergency housing programs approach capacity. The Vermont Department for Children and Families estimated fewer than five rooms were available in Chittenden County as of Monday.

“We call every hotel every morning that works with us so we have up-to-date information because people check in and check out on a daily basis,” said Nicole Tousignant with the Department for Children and Families.

According to South Burlington Police, there are 12 known encampments in the city, but most are on private property. The city doesn’t have data on how many people are living in them.

“It’s really to find alternative placements and shelters for people so if it becomes a problem in the city, it’s not on city land,” McNeil said.

If South Burlington officials do decide a homeless encampment needs to be removed, those living there will be given 24 hours’ notice. Their stuff will also be held by police for 30 days.