Homeless Vet Continues Living On Public Sidewalk

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Essex Junction leaders are continuing efforts to get a homeless veteran off a public sidewalk.  Michael Barney is in his mid forties and has been living on a tarp outside the Champlain Valley Expo for about seven months.

“He seems very self sufficient, he appears to be healthy, and I think he just wants to be left alone,” says Essex Police Captain George Murtie.  “From reports I’ve had from officers, when they approach him, he acts like they’re not their.”

Officials says they noticed Barney in February.  He had been hidden behind a snow bank for the winter.

“It’s a great place to live, so people don’t automatically assume there’s homelessness here, but there are homeless people in Essex Junction, we just don’t see them very often,” says Village Board of Trustees Vice Chair Elaine Sopchak.  “This individual has brought the issue to the forefront because people are surprised.”

Murtie says Essex police have attempted to connect Barney with COTS, the Howard Center, and Veterans Affairs.  They say he has refused any and all help.

“Nobody anticipated that he was going to choose to remain there,” says Murtie.

After a number of complaints from various community members and “No Trespass” warnings against Barney from several business owners, village leaders made, what they say, is a tough decision.

“It’s a public right of way and we do have rules on the books preventing shelter from being taken in a public right of way,” says Sopchak.

In early June, Barney was served papers from civil court, mandating he vacate his area within 10 days.  He did not comply.  It is now up to a judge to decide the next step.  Village leaders say there is no telling when that will happen.

“If this were private property, we could remove him for trespassing, if the property owner didn’t want him there,” says Murtie.  “This is public property, so we would not be on secure legal footing to just say ‘you have to leave.'”

Village leaders are considering an ordinance against vagrancy and loitering.  Essex Junction does not currently have one.  Sopchak says the topic will be discussed at a future trustee meeting.  Essex Police Chief Brad Larose is researching ordinances in neighboring municipalities.

Local 22 and Local 44 attempted to obtain court documents for Barney.  The clerk would not grant them, saying it is unclear whether they are public at this time.

Murtie says Barney does not have legal representation currently, and did not show up for his court date.
 

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