Burlington postpones closing of South End encampment, pledges to assist residents

Mayor Miro Weinberger announces that the closure of the Sears Lane homeless encampment has been postponed until October 26 during a Burlington City Council meeting on Monday, October 18, 2021. Photo by Glenn Russell/VT Digger

Burlington officials have postponed plans to clear an encampment of people without housing for one week, laying out a plan to use state funds to relocate people living at the Sears Lane camp starting Oct. 26.

Mayor Miro Weinberger, who last week had announced plans to clear the camp, declared the postponement during Monday night’s City Council meeting.

The decision followed a wave of opposition to the clearing of the Sears Lane camp scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 19. Camp residents and their advocates say 20 to 30 people live at the site in the South End.

Opponents had also raised questions about whether dispersing the camp violated the city’s policies regarding the dispersion of settlements on public land.

In remarks at Monday’s meeting, Weinberger said the adjustment stemmed from negotiations “in good faith” between the city and residents of the camp.

“To protect the health and safety of the campers, neighbors, and our first responders we must close this encampment,” Weinberger said in a statement. “However, we will not stop fighting to bring needed support and resources to members of our community who are housing insecure.”

Weinberger said the city would rely on funds from the Vermont Department of Children and Families to help relocate the campers. In a news release, state officials said they plan to work with the Chittenden Homeless Alliance, the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity and the Howard Center Street Outreach Team.

The city also pledged to store residents’ belongings for 30 days after the camp is scheduled to close.

But the new plans did little to quell the outrage expressed by some in the community toward the camp’s closure. Roughly 20 people at the meeting lambasted the move during a sometimes heated public forum period, with some residents cursing or talking beyond their allotted time.