Residents of Sears Lane homeless camp ordered to leave site Tuesday

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Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger said Monday that anyone remaining at the Sears Lane homeless encampment after 9 am Tuesday will be considered trespassers.

Weinberger met with City Council members, the city attorney and a homeless advocate to discuss the situation at the site, which has generated months of complaints from neighbors about unsanitary conditions and criminal behavior.

“It is unsafe for campers, it is unsafe for neighbors, it is an unsafe place for the city’s first responders,” the mayor said.

Paul Dragon, executive director of the Champlain Valley Office for Economic Opportunity, said relocation efforts are underway. Dragon says nine people are set to move into hotels and two people plan to relocate out of state. Others have indicated they will live campers.

“Everybody should know there are possibilities and CVOEO is providing resources if people do indeed want to go,” said Dragon.

One resident, John Robtoy, said he plans to leave Tuesday, but doesn’t know where he’ll go. 

“I don’t know. I don’t have a clue,” he said. “This is more or less a community, it’s a home.”

Another resident, who asked to remain anonymous, said he wishes the city had a designated space for people who prefer to live this way. “I feel safe here and, I know as I fact, I’m safer here than carrying a backpack up and down the West Coast,” he said.”  

Last month, the city put out a proposal to non-profit service providers to manage the site, but according to the mayor’s office, none responded. Dragon said his organization is there to help residents “self manage their own living situation.”

“We have several programs that are focused on permanent housing, so if we go in and start managing encampments that is diametrically opposed to what we want as a society and and as an agency,” he said.

Dragon said Sears Lane residents will be able to stay 30 days in hotels. Weinberger says the city may be able to provide additional time to residents who need it. 

“On a case by case basis, the city may grant additional flexibility to Sears Lane campers who are working with CVEOE and have a housing plan that requires some additional time,” said Weinberger. 

Burlington City Attorney Dan Richardson said there will be a hearing Thursday on a temporary restraining order filed by two Sears Lane occupants last week. The court rejected it, but the occupants were allowed to file a revised emergency motion.

Richardson says the judge’s order does not prohibit the city from enforcing the order for occupants to leave Tuesday.

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