Burlington settles with homeless man in camp removal lawsuit

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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) A homeless man is getting $25,000 from the city of Burlington. The ACLU sued the city on Brian Croteau's behalf, saying the city destroyed his property and violated his constitutional rights when they kicked him out of an encampment. Now, the city tells our Olivia Lyons it has a new policy on homeless camps.

Olivia asked to speak with the mayor on this issue but he declined to speak with her. She ended up speaking with Eileen Blackwood, the city's attorney, who is not responsible for creating city policy.

Olivia didn't speak with Brian Croteau but she did speak with other members of the homeless community who say this settlement is going to create a better relationship between them and the city.

"I think that's a good idea. Give people the chance to get their stuff out of there at least," said Gordon Sawyer, who is homeless.

After working under an ad hoc homeless policy, a new set of rules is being brought to the public safety committee and City Council for vetting.

It's helpful and like I said, hopefully, people respect it and appreciate what they're doing for them and get their stuff cleaned up before," Sawyer said.

It says the city will give adequate notice before taking property from sheltering sites and store that property for at least 30 days. Blackwood says the city wants to be compassionate for those who are homeless, but if there is a health, safety or permit issue, people will be asked to move.

"If, for example, they have been there for a long time and they have a lot of stuff there and if you're a homeless person you don't have a vehicle, we recognize it may take you a long time to move your stuff. So, we are trying to give people as much notice as we can depending on what the reason if for their having to move," Blackwood said.

Most folks being asked to move are at places marked no camping. The city does have specific spots where camping is allowed, but Blackwood says the city has struggled to decide if they want to identify those places because they may want to use them for other reasons.

Malcolm Kendall Tanner has been living in his own camp for the past four years.

"This is the only place I have to go. The shelter's full, there's no room, I don't drink, so I can't go to the wet shelter, so there's nowhere else for me to go anyway, so I figure this works," he said.

Tanner says the police come to talk to him about other matters happening in the area, they have no problem with him being there because he is not causing any issues, but he thinks the settlement is a step in the correct direction.

"There should be a warning, of course. Don't just go toss them, I mean, it's winter," he said.

As for Croteau, he won $25,000 in the lawsuit. The ACLU says he is currently living in an apartment, but he is losing his housing in January and they hope he can find hard shelter for the rest of the winter.