Homeless object to Burlington City Hall Park makeover

BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) As the reconstruction date for Burlington's City Hall Park draws closer, the city's homeless population is joining the fight against the changes. Channel 3's Christina Guessferd spoke with the homeless people who frequently hang out in the park about their latest act of protest.

The revitalization plan set to being next month involves adding sidewalks and a new splash fountain and removing more than half the park's trees. And the homeless say without the park, they'll have nowhere left to go.

"This is historical. There's a historical marker over there. You're not supposed to tear up this park. You can't do that. Then you take our turtle that we all paid for -- koi fish, goldfish, sticky frog, come on man..." said one man who calls himself Dragon.

For the last few months a turtle and several fish swam in the City Hall Park fountain, and the group of homeless people who spend most of their time in the park say it was their silent act of protest against the project.

"We love this place, you know. They're about to change this whole park. It's gonna take our only place we love to hang, so that everyone's going to have to hang somewhere else," said one man.

Places like Battery Park or the Co-Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. But many say City Hall Park is their preferred spot and they don't feel like they have many other options to take in the sunshine.

"It's in the middle of town. We got everything we want right by us," said Michael Needham. "We all come here, from, you know, dusk till dawn."

"There's no really other place to hangout, unless you want to be inside," added Michelle Hogan. "And then they want to destroy all the campgrounds in Burlington. Where do they expect us to go?"

Camping is prohibited throughout most of Burlington and the city's only homeless shelter without strict sobriety requirements is closed for the summer.

"Once in a while you get someone who's had a little bit too much to drink and the cops have to come, or whatever, but we try to keep it calm, cool, and we're all just friendly people. We help each other out," Needham said.

"Our officers know most of them by name. Our officers are able to understand the dynamics of different groups within the park, and our officers are really there just to maintain a sense of order that allows everyone to enjoy the public space," said Burlington Police Deputy Chief Jon Murad.

And officials say while they've done their best to address citizens' concerns, the City Hall Park revitalization project is inevitable and will be worth the wait. "What I've said to them is, what we're planning on doing starting this summer is going to make the park far better than it has been up until now," said Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger.

RePorter Christina Guessferd: Are you guys planning any other acts of protest?
Dragon: I'm going to chain myself to one of these trees.

The homeless say they want to enjoy Burlington's beautiful public spaces just like everybody else, and just like many citizens they're sad to see one of them go, if only for a little while.