Sarino Macri, seen on April 30, in the shelter he built, had lived in the homeless encampment on Sears Lane in Burlington for two years. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Burlington plans to break up an encampment of roughly 20 people without housing in the city’s South End, Mayor Miro Weinberger announced Thursday evening.

Weinberger previously supported the encampment, which sits on city-owned land off of Sears Lane. He said his position changed after authorities responded to multiple incidents at the camp on Wednesday.

“In attempting to generate new, needed housing the City’s intent was never to protect criminal activity,” Weinberger said in a statement. “It is clear that the encampment at Sears Lane has become untenable and unacceptable.”  

Burlington police told residents of the camp Thursday they need to leave and remove all their belongings by Oct. 19, according to a press release from Weinberger’s office. 

On Wednesday, police said they descended on the site with assistance from a helicopter to arrest Robert Renner, 49, who lived in the encampment. Renner was arrested as part of a “months-long narcotics investigation,” and police found meth as well as “several weapons” in his possession upon detaining him, according to a news release.

Later in the day, Michael Bessette, 30, allegedly pointed a pellet gun at firefighters as they responded to a medical emergency at the site, police said. Bessette has been charged with simple assault. 

The city’s move to disperse the camp is a shift from its previous plans for the site. Last month, the mayor’s office asked local nonprofits to help install safety features at the site, like lights and fencing. Officials intended to use federal stimulus funds to pay for the additions. 

In an ideal world, Burlington wouldn’t want to invest in an encampment to make it more suitable, said Brian Pine, the city’s development chief. But the steep cost of housing meant that campers had nowhere else to live.

Area residents were opposed to developing the encampment, said Joan Shannon, a city councilor who represents the neighborhood around Sears Lane.

“I don’t think anybody down here is too optimistic about it,” she said in an interview last month. 

Shannon, who is a Democrat, also shared concerns about crime at the camp with VTDigger.

As of Thursday, no organizations had placed a bid on adding the safety features to the camp, the mayor’s spokesperson, Samantha Sheehan, said in an email. 

Kevin Pounds, executive director of the Burlington shelter ANEW Place, said last month he hoped Burlington would allow the Sears Lane camp to continue.

Grappling with homelessness, however, isn’t just an issue for municipalities and nonprofits, Pounds said.

“With the growing number of people experiencing homelessness hitting the streets, there really does have to be a collective posture from our community,” he said in an interview. “Although it does involve the city and the state and nonprofit agencies, it also involves us as people and neighbors recognizing that it’s part of our shared responsibility to figure out a solution.”

(this story/news/article has not been edited by PostX News staff and is published from a syndicated feed)



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