From his popcorn stand on Church Street in Burlington, Paul Buschner has seen people walk by with all their belongings on their backs.
Three times, Buschner has paid for new birth certificates or IDs for homeless people whose belongings were stolen. In the 15 years that Buschner has operated his A-Maize-ing Kettle Korn cart, he's spoken with people who have lost prescription medication, important documents and other personal items.
Now, the New North End resident is spearheading a project to construct 40 secure lockers where the homeless could safely store their belongings for free. Buschner's still finalizing the cost estimates, but figures the total will come in between $5,000 and $10,000 for building materials, locks and possibly a security camera.
Buschner hopes to have the lockers completed in downtown Burlington by midsummer.
"I see people burdened by their stuff," Buschner said. "They can't go to the doctor's, can't go grocery shopping, can't get into the store with a big backpack." Lockers would help "give them some dignity and security."
The Salvation Army has offered a site for the lockers, which would be built under an awning near its South Champlain Street building.
Burlington airport director Gene Richards has agreed to donate unused lockers, and Mountain Air Systems in Williston will refurbish them at no cost. Other community leaders and organizations have also been supportive. Buschner shared his idea with Mayor Miro Weinberger in March and will discuss it at the Chittenden County Homeless Alliance in May.
Salvation Army Lt. Scott Murray agreed to designate a brightly lit spot off the parking lot where people could access their belongings anytime. Salvation Army staff members would oversee the distribution of keys, clear the snow in winter and provide support services to users, Murray said. The individual lockers will be four feet tall and 16 inches wide.
Currently, the Salvation Army keeps belongings in an office while guests eat daily free dinners. "Just off the top of my head, I can think of 50 people who need [lockers]," Murray said. "They're kind of at the mercy of a backpack."
City Councilor Dave Hartnett (D-North District) said he didn't expect that the project would require city council approval. If it does, Hartnett has agreed to sponsor the resolution.