Judge blocks Burlington homeless camp closure

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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) A judge has temporarily blocked the eviction of a Burlington homeless camp. The Vermont chapter of the ACLU had filed a lawsuit against the city, and now they'll battle it out in court.

The ACLU will be meeting with the city in court on Wednesday to hear oral arguments, which means the camp residents who live in a wooded area off North Avenue will not be evicted on Monday.

One homeless resident who lives in the area told us he's not sure what they'll do if the city removes their camp.

"I'm living in the woods, just trying to survive," said Steve, 65.

Steve lives near the homeless camp the city had planned to take down Monday.

"This is crazy out here where they're moving them all out of the woods 'cause now they're all going to be living on the sidewalks," he said.

The city issued a notice for the camp to vacate by Monday or else all property will be confiscated and residents could be prosecuted.

"They're people who have nowhere else to go. They're the city's most vulnerable residents," said Jared Carter of the Vermont Community Law Center.

The Vermont chapter of the ACLU argues the city doesn't allow people to sleep in parks or set up shelter on sidewalks. Shelters are full and there's nowhere else to go.

"Effectively the city is saying these people don't belong here and they have to go somewhere else," said Jay Diaz of the ACLU.

"There are lots of places around the city where people are camping and living, and as long as there's no health or safety of environmental problems like here, the city doesn't go in and try to move those folks out of it," said Eileen Blackwood, Burlington's city attorney.

Blackwood says environmental problems were the main cause of concern here.

"This is public property and the city is supposed to take care of it," she said.

"While certainly environment concerns are important and should always be considered, these are U.S. citizen with constitutional rights, and their hardship, which I think will be great if their tents are removed, weigh in favor of moving forward with this," Carter said.

Steve agrees. He says moving would make his life harder, taking him farther away from resources he relies on like food shelves and the Salvation Army.

"They're creating a bigger problem because all these people are going to be sleeping on the sidewalk downtown," he said. "So it's a no-win situation."

The city on Thursday dismantled another homeless encampment in the City's South End.

WCAX News went to Mayor Miro Weinberger's office Friday to talk about this lawsuit and the homeless camp evictions. His office referred us back to the city attorney. When we called again Friday afternoon, our calls had not yet been returned when this story was published. It's worth noting the city attorney works for the mayor and he could stop these evictions if he wanted to.

Again, the city and the ACLU will now meet in court so a judge can decide the fate of the homeless camps and the people will not be evicted Monday.