City proposes plan to provide basic necessities to Burlington encampments

Burlington will begin providing basic necessities at homeless encampments as a temporary response to the growing unhoused population, Mayor Emma Mulvaney-Stanak said this week.

The temporary plan includes distributing basic necessities, like water, Dumpsters and portable toilets. These resources will be split between a few different encampments, two near the waterfront and another near the Intervale in the Old North End.

At a working session of the City Council meeting on Monday, June 10, Mulvaney-Stanak said the city will also develop a plan focused on outreach and service and creating new shelters.

This plan comes in the wake of growing tent encampments, something the city has always needed to address, but a problem that has been exacerbated with the growing unhoused population.

Patrons of downtown Burlington businesses often cite the high prevalence of unhoused individuals in the area as one of their major public safety concerns.
Patrons of downtown Burlington businesses often cite the high prevalence of unhoused individuals in the area as one of their major public safety concerns.

Growing population of unhoused individuals

Sarah K. Russell, the special assistant to end homelessness, led a presentation along with Mulvaney-Stanak that included data collected from Chittenden County in April 2024.

In the summer of 2022, around 60 to 80 individuals were "sleeping outside," said Russell. That number ballooned by the next year, June 2023, to around 140 to 160 individuals. In January, the number of unhoused individuals reached 192. They now predict the number will soon pass 300, a larger number than how many beds are currently available at city shelters, prompting the city to address the issue with this proposed plan.

After the supply of the basic necessities, a more intensive plan focused on outreach and services, and eventually the forming of new shelters, will be enacted. Mulvaney-Stanak said they plan to examine those ideas more closely in the fall and lobby the state for funds to support new shelters. For now, she is proposing to allocate $50,000 of the FY25 budget toward community safety and this cause.

Mulvaney-Stanak did not say how long this support will be provided, and that the city will continue to abide by certain policies, like "removing tents from city parks and public rights-of-way," if they provide a health or safety risk.

A tent encampment is seen between Pine Street and the Pine Street Barge Canal in Burlington on June 9, 2016.
The relatively undisturbed woodlands here have intermittently housed people unable or unwilling to find more permanent shelter.
A tent encampment is seen between Pine Street and the Pine Street Barge Canal in Burlington on June 9, 2016. The relatively undisturbed woodlands here have intermittently housed people unable or unwilling to find more permanent shelter.

Public comment

There were mixed opinions about the issue during the public forum. One resident said that support for the encampment surprised her, and that it "feels the opposite of safe." She expressed her grievances with feeling unsafe on Church Street, in the parking garages and public parks.

Another resident gave an opposing opinion, saying they support the encampments and that providing those services is "the least the city can do."

Mulvaney-Stanak provided insight on other public safety proposals she's bringing to the FY25 budget, including $150,000 for additional security and a social worker at Fletcher Free Library, and hiring several more police officers.

Sydney P. Hakes is the Burlington city reporter. Contact her at SHakes@gannett.com.

This article originally appeared on Burlington Free Press: Burlington VT to provide homeless with water, toilets, Dumpsters

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