Vermont ACLU attempts to block Burlington homeless encampments from closing

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The ACLU of Vermont is attempting to block the City of Burlington from shutting down homeless encampments.

ACLU staff attorney Jason Diaz said the organization filed on Friday in U.S. District Court a request seeking a temporary restraining order to try to block the scheduled closing of another homeless encampment on North Avenue on Monday.

The request for the temporary restraining order was filed on behalf of three homeless men — Brian Croteau, Larry Priest, and Richard Pursell, who live at the camp, which sits behind Burlington College.

Earlier this week the city said it successfully closed an encampment off Sears Lane because of ongoing public safety concerns. Police said one of the recent complaints was for a dispute with a gun. 

“Our clients are homeless; they’ve been homeless for several months,” Diaz said. “Some of them have been residents of Burlington for 30 years, many of them are Vermonters, including our clients—two out of the three main plaintiffs—and the fact remains it’s getting colder, they’re sleeping outside, they have nowhere to go in the city—that is wrong, and the constitution prevents it and we hope that ta judge agrees,” Diaz told reporters outside of federal court after filing the lawsuit.

The ACLU of Vermont also is seeking the case be classified as a class-action lawsuit so it would cover all other homeless people within the Queen City.

On Friday afternoon, City Attorney Eileen Blackwood said she plans to file an opposition to the request.

“We do oppose the lawsuit, and we disagree the city has violated anyone’s constitutional rights,” Blackwood said in a phone interview.

As of 4pm Friday, Federal District Court Judge Geoffrey W. Crawford granted the request, allowing those residents of the encampment to stay through Wednesday. This coming Wednesday a hearing will be held at the U.S. District Courthouse in Rutland at 9:30 am. 

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