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Burlington business owners say homeless behavior out of control

(WCAX)
Published: Aug. 16, 2017 at 5:04 PM EDT
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Burlington Police say there's been an uptick in violence within the city's homeless population. In response to a stabbing last week, the department recently installed temporary barriers at the corner of Main and Church Streets to -- in part -- discourage the homeless people from congregating. But one business owner says he's had enough.

Muddy Waters owner Mark MacKillop and his staff have been whipping up fancy coffee drinks at this Burlington café for 23 years. But lately it's gotten much harder to do business -- especially after dark -- because of what's happening outside these doors.

"People say to me all the time, 'What's going on in that block? I don't even like going there anymore. It's terrible down there,'" MacKillop said. He says he's sympathetic to panhandlers and those struggling with mental illness, but he says what he won't tolerate is the growing bad behavior of the city's homeless population. "There is a lot of drunkenness. There's a lot of vulgarity and there's a lot of harassment."

And just last week a near fatal stabbing. The fight between three homeless men started in City Hall Park but became MacKillop's problem after one bloodied victim ended up stumbling to his door. He says the ordeal terrified his staff.

"I turned around and like stretched and this guy is coming at me with a knife," said Daniel Keller, a homeless man who was the other victim that night. His hand got sliced. His friend was initially sent to the ICU but has since been discharged from the hospital.

"Our numbers would tell us there is simply more violence, however you do have to put that against their living room is in our public space," said Burlington Police Dep. Chief Shawn Burke. He says there's about a dozen homeless people causing most of the problems downtown, and calls the escalating violence a grave concern for the police department. "We train again and model a ton of our training around how to respond, how to de-escalate these situations, but they are quite dangerous not only for the people who are involved, the witnesses who are present, but also the officers who are responding."

Back at the café, MacKillop just wants help because he says the alternative isn't pretty. "It's just getting worse and worse, and I'm feeling completely overhwlemed by it. And when I walk down here at night I think we should just close," he said.

MacKillop wants increased foot patrols in the area. He also says Burlington's mayor should be talking to other cities about how they handle this problem. He doesn't mind the the newly installed barriers, even if they are only a temporary solution.