Homeless man making use of Berlin rooftops for shelter

Published: Jul. 10, 2020 at 3:09 PM EDT
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Some central Vermont businesses are complaining to police, saying a man is living on their rooftops.

Many people go into Staples in the Cherry Hill Plaza in Berlin to shop. But some workers in the area have noticed a homeless man is also using the store -- to sleep on the roof.

John Duke works in the area and says he was shocked to hear the news, saying he wouldn't dare to go up there in this heat. "Absolutely not," he said.

And it's not just the Staples. Berlin Police say they first got the call a few months ago that a man in his 20s or 30s sets up camp where many might not look. "He likes to use pallets left behind businesses and he has some plastic containers and he builds a little shelter next to an air conditioning unit to blend in and uses the power from the AC unit," said Berlin Police Ofc. Joseph Carriveau.

He says he hasn't heard of any complaints in the last few days but it's still clear he's around. "He goes from one business to another and lives on the rooftop till he gets caught," Carriveau said.

He says even though the man picks up after himself, businesses don't feel comfortable with him on the roof. But is there a crime being committed?

"That's where it gets to the grey area. Him using electricity would be considered theft of service. And being on the roof too -- if he hasn't been served a trespass warrant -- is not a violation," Carriveau said.

There's been no charges filed, but police are concerned for his safety during the hot weather. "Every time we speak to him we offer him 211 services. He says he likes to be by himself," Carriveau said.

Rick DeAngelis with the Good Samaritan House, the local homeless shelter in Barre, says they are also running putting people up at the Echo Lodge in Montpelier during the pandemic. He says he's never heard of a homeless camp on a roof.

"They are searching for safe places, and one thing that can be said about the roof, besides being a source of electricity, no one is going to bother you up there," DeAngelis said. "People don't want to engage with the system because they have been traumatized at some point or another."

DeAngelis says Washington County has the second highest homeless population in the state, next to Chittenden County. He hopes the man is safe and healthy. "It's very sad though, because what we have seen is people struggle physically and mentally when they are outside for a period of time," he said.