- Molly Walsh
- Reuben James Bowen (left) and Dragon next to Burlington City Hall
Track pants hanging from a tree branch marked the mini-encampment that has grown up against the south side of Burlington City Hall since July 10. That's when City Hall Park closed for reconstruction, displacing the homeless people who regularly gathered there.
"They did it on purpose," groused a man who identified himself only as Dragon. As he fumed in a folding chair next to the sidewalk along Main Street last Friday, a tin can of cigarette butts at his side, tourists roamed Church Street, just steps away.
The occupation is a protest of the reconstruction, Dragon said, adding that he felt he was evicted for an unnecessary project. Next to him, a man in a wheelchair, who called himself Reuben James Bowen, agreed the project seemed designed to "get rid of homeless people." Dragon said he doesn't sleep next to city hall; he slips away to his tent in the woods, returning each morning. Others have been overnighting there, Dragon said.
Not for long, though. Turns out the people outside city hall will have to decamp again. Mayor Miro Weinberger told Seven Days that more construction fence would go up on Wednesday, August 14, as work on the park advances — rendering the small area off-limits. Residents have complained about fights, people blocking the sidewalk, and mattresses and chairs there, he said.
"At times police have responded; at times Street Outreach has responded" with the goal of "trying to encourage better behavior," Weinberger said, referring to the Howard Center's outreach team.
"The outreach people come out here all the time," Bowen confirmed. "They just talk a bunch of horseshit."
Empty beer cans in brown bags, along with clothing and a suitcase, littered the spot. A man stopped by, and Dragon ordered him to remove his stuff and a cushion that someone had used as a bathroom.
Both Dragon and Bowen said they avoid homeless shelters; Dragon cited "bogus rules" and "assholes." Neither man works, they said. Bowen lives on disability payments and sometimes stays in motels.
"Frequently the people that you see spending time on the street, in that location, other locations in the downtown, are not homeless," Weinberger said.
Burlington needs to keep working to house people who want housing, the mayor added, but it also needs to keep working on the mix of enforcement and supportive services designed to reduce problem behavior such as fights and and harassment.