What remained of the Sears Lane homeless encampment in Burlington's South End was completely dismantled Friday morning when city crews staged an early-morning cleanup and forced out the six remaining residents.
Loadersrolled in at about 7:30 a.m. and were still moving piles of debris into dumpsters more than three hours later. Trucks periodically hauled in empty trash receptacles as others were filled to the brim.
Former Sears Lane resident Grey Barreda watched the scene solemnly from outside the chain link fence that now surrounds the site. Barreda and another former camper, Alexys Grundy, sued the city over their forced removal last month. But a Superior Court judge has continually sided with city officials in the ongoing case.
“The people in power decide who’s a victim, and the city has decided they’re the victim,” Barreda said. “This is a temper tantrum.”
The city ordered the encampment closed following two arrests there in mid-October. Mayor Miro Weinberger initially gave the nearly 40 campers who lived there just five days to pack up and leave. He extended the move-out deadline after pressure from community activists, who called the eviction cruel and inhumane.
Advocates showed up at city council meetings, demanding Weinberger reverse course. Progressive city councilors attempted to pass several resolutions that would have allowed the campers to stay.
Weinberger, however, maintained that the camp presented a public health risk. The city worked with local nonprofits to offer campers temporary housing at hotels, but the solution didn’t work for everyone. Some people stayed at Sears Lane.
Former camper Grey Barreda (left) and a city social worker
All but one of the remaining campers left the site willingly Friday morning. Burlington police cited the man for trespassing, the city's first enforcement action against a resident since the camp was ordered closed.
Two others were also taken into custody on Friday, including one camper with outstanding arrest warrants and an activist who, according to the mayor’s office, had attempted to impede the city cleanup “by attempting to chain themselves to a Public Works vehicle.”
Jordan Redell, Mayor Miro Weinberger’s chief of staff, told Seven Days that there was not a particular incident that prompted Friday’s clear out. In a statement, Weinberger said that campers had continued to use propane and generators, and that crews were removing the equipment “so that the hazardous occupation does not recur.”
Weinberger said the situation at Sears Lane reflects “a systemic failure of our housing system and the efforts to end chronic homelessness.” He said he plans to announce new housing initiatives next week that will lead toward “housing truly being a human right for all.”
Former camper Sarino Macri (right) and a Burlington officer
On Friday morning, city social workers spoke with campers who quietly watched the encampment being destroyed. Crews did save some free-standing structures, including a tiny home built by former camper Sarino Macri, who has been staying at a South Burlington inn the last few weeks.
Police escorted Macri inside the fence so he could remove some belongings he’d left behind. “I have no place to move it,” he said, indicating his home. “I have no land.”
City Councilor Joe Magee (P-Ward 3), one of the council’s loudest advocates for the campers, went to the site and watched with disappointment as the city tore down the remaining structures.
“Shocked and disgusted was how I felt this morning,” he said. “They have to know by now that this action is only going to further displace people and not really bring about any solution to the underlying problem. I’m pretty disheartened.”
Saturday afternoon, the council's six-member Progressive caucus issued a statement calling the city's surprise eviction "unconscionable." The group called on Weinberger to immediately find shelter for the people whose homes the city destroyed.
"We vehemently oppose the Mayor’s harmful actions taken at the Sears Lane encampment, and implore him to outline how the Administration is supporting those who they displaced, and share his plan to support all community members who are houseless going forward," the statement says.
The councilors also announced that they intend to seek changes to the city's policy about sheltering on public lands, saying that people should be able to camp "safely, without uncertainty around removal by the City." The caucus will present a proposal at an upcoming council meeting, according to the statement.
Clarification, December 10, 2021: A previous version of this story mischaracterized a statement from Jordan Redell.