Progressives Decry Decision to Clear Out Burlington Homeless Encampment | Off Message

Progressives Decry Decision to Clear Out Burlington Homeless Encampment

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The Sears Lane encampment - SASHA GOLDSTEIN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Sasha Goldstein ©️ Seven Days
  • The Sears Lane encampment
Updated on October 16, 2021.

Progressives on the Burlington City Council are calling on Mayor Miro Weinberger to stop the eviction of two dozen houseless people from the Sears Lane encampment.

Weinberger, a Democrat, ordered police on Thursday to start the process of breaking up the South End site after two arrests there on Wednesday: one man was cited for drug trafficking and another for threatening firefighters with a weapon. The residents have until Tuesday, October 19, at 5 p.m. to vacate, or they may face legal action, according to the eviction notice posted around the site.

In an emailed statement Friday, council Progs acknowledged the public safety concerns but argued that disbanding the camp — without providing other housing options — won't make the city safer.



"In all likelihood, this action will shift these issues to another part of the city, without addressing the underlying conditions that got us here in the first place," the statement reads.

The councilors said Weinberger is displacing vulnerable people at a time when the state's COVID-19 cases are at their highest level since the start of the pandemic, and right before the winter season. Progs are asking the mayor to halt the eviction and "to continue to work with camp residents to ensure they have access to safe shelter."
The statement also criticizes Weinberger for unilaterally ordering the camp's closure without consulting councilors. Councilor Joe Magee (P-Ward 3) said he found out about the situation on Twitter.

Samantha Sheehan, Weinberger's spokesperson, said in an email late Friday that the Progs' statement "is perplexing and concerning.

"Perplexing because [City Council President Max Tracy] was notified of the Administration's decision in advance," she wrote. "Concerning because even while condemning serious crime and violence the Progressive Caucus is, yet again, refusing to support law enforcement action that will address it."

Reached Saturday afternoon, Tracy said the administration did tell him that the city would be issuing the eviction notice but that "they didn't ask me for my opinion on what to do before making that decision."

"[There's] a big difference between trying to work together to find a path forward and being told, 'This is what I'm doing,'" Tracy added.

The decision was abrupt, the Progs said, especially considering that the city had worked in recent months to find a partner to manage the camp, which is on city property. A request for proposals garnered no responses.

Magee said giving camp residents five days to find other housing is not long enough.

"Folks are there for a reason," he said. "To get this short timeline, I think shows a lack of empathy."

Magee was uncertain whether councilors would broach the topic at their regularly scheduled meeting on Monday.
The statement concludes with a plea to Gov. Phil Scott to extend the state's emergency housing program, which has sheltered hundreds of Vermonters in hotels during the pandemic. The state curtailed the program in July to allow only the most vulnerable people to stay another 84 days, after which they'd have to apply for a 30-day extension. Just before that deadline, Scott allowed participants to remain for a month without reapplying.

VTDigger.org reported on Thursday that Scott would again extend the deadline for an unspecified amount of time. Activists have been camping out on the Statehouse steps to demand that Vermont continue the program through winter. The Burlington Progs want the same thing.

"These protections must be in place while we work collectively for permanent housing first solutions to ensure all Vermonters have access to housing even after the pandemic ends," the statement says. "Housing is a human right. Our City and State must continue working to guarantee safe housing for all."