Friday, June 29, 2018

City Violates Its Policy to Warn Camp Closures

Two weeks ago at Breakfast, Brian Croteau approached me with disturbing news. His camp had been completely removed. Three tents, fresh food, clothes and other possessions. Why? By whom? It turns out that the City had workers out cleaning up abandoned sites. It even had a dumpster nearby, which a witness told me was full of camping gear.

The evidence suggests that the cleanup of Brian’s camp was a routine operation done without thoughtfulness or conscience, where the target was an abandoned camp, but the camp that got cleaned up was an active camp. The abandoned camp was thirty feet away, but not so visible – and remains where it was the day of the removal of Brian’s camp. I was told by someone who has been  camping in Burlington for years that the City sends out workers twice each summer to clean up abandoned camps. So it seems to be an institutional reflex, an automatic event on the calendar of whichever department it was.

This camp cleanup amounts to a non-warned cleanup against city policy. I have advocated for the city, telling homeless folks that the City won't just close camps without warning, on the grounds that the city has a conscience and does not want to hurt people, so this is damaging to me, as much as it is damaging to the city. Someone somewhere needs to be told that the act was unacceptable and must not be repeated. I would like the City to repudiate this unfortunate deviation from City policy, and declare that such a thing won't happen again.

The simple rule for routine cleanup is: if the tents are standing, you cannot take them down. Better, the City can have a street outreach worker present when the cleanup is due. I would be happy  to do this job. The City Government, and the community of the city, are safer when the City is transparent and brings witnesses into its actions. No more blitzkrieg cleanups, please.

Our shared aspiration is that the administration exercise its authority to get policy control over the City department responsible for this abysmal act, and that homeless campers can feel safe that there will be no excuse, and no impunity, for an "accidental" cleanup.

President of the Council, I would ask that you ask the Mayor to explain what he plans to do about this unfortunate violation of  City policy.

Stephen Marshall