People & Places

Judge: Burlington can clear out Sears Lane campers for now

Workers collect trash for disposal at the Sears Lane encampment in Burlington on Friday, Oct. 22. Photo by Glenn Russell/VT Digger

BURLINGTON — The city is moving ahead with its plan to remove residents of a South End encampment on city-owned land after an initial attempt by campers to stop the action in court failed. 

People who had been living at the camp will have another chance to make their case before a judge on Oct. 28, though that hearing will come two days after the city has demanded they clear out. 

Judge Samuel Hoar of Chittenden Superior Court denied the campers’ motion Wednesday for a temporary restraining order against the city, writing in an entry that the campers’ civil complaint “does not contain sufficient factual information.”

“It refers to a notice that is not attached or otherwise a matter of record, makes reference to an initial policy and procedure that is neither attached nor described,” the entry read. 

The decision allows city officials to remain on track with their plan to clear the site. That plan, which was released at the start of Monday’s City Council meeting, allows campers to keep their belongings at the site in city-provided storage containers 30 days beyond the Oct. 26 deadline to leave.

Any dwelling that has been claimed by a camper will not be knocked down before the 30 days are up, said Samantha Sheehan, a spokesperson for Mayor Miro Weinberger. 

Jordan Orcutt, seen in a carport he has converted into his home, says he is completely stressed out about the prospect of being forced to move. “It’s not just a garage or a tent,” Orcutt said. “It’s my life.” Photo by Glenn Russell/VT Digger

The city’s cleanup of the site got underway Friday morning, as bulldozers and other cleanup equipment hauled items into nearby dumpsters.

City officials said any items thrown out Friday had been identified by campers as abandoned or trash. During a walk around the site on Friday afternoon, however, a reporter from VTDigger heard at least one resident of the site say their belongings had been discarded.

Campers were supposed to claim their belongings when social workers from the city and local organizations visited the site to meet with residents, Sheehan said. 

The social workers met with three to four residents Thursday and four to five on Friday, Sheehan said. Officials estimate 10 to 12 people now live at the encampment.

The events of Friday morning almost immediately generated a frantic buzz on social media, with Brenda Siegel, an advocate for those experiencing homelessness, calling the city’s actions illegal.

“I want y’all to know I will be using every bit of power I have as a public figure to make it known that just as the weather turned to 30 degrees, days before eviction, Miro ILLEGALLY bulldozed people’s homes,” Siegel said in a tweet Friday morning.

Jordan Orcutt collects trash outside the carport he has converted into his home at the Sears Lane encampment in Burlington on Friday, Oct. 22. Photo by Glenn Russell/VT Digger

But in a statement Friday afternoon, City Attorney Dan Richardson cited the Superior Court ruling as defense of the city’s legal right to clear the encampment of trash.

“The City is under no legal or procedural obligation to act outside of its previously noticed timelines,” Richardson said.

City Councilor Joe Magee, P-Ward 3 is expected to introduce a resolution at the body’s meeting on Oct. 25 calling on the mayor to stop the closure of the encampment, though it is unclear whether that resolution would be legally binding. 

Magee tried to introduce the resolution at the council’s Oct. 18 meeting, but a motion to add the topic to the agenda failed.

The campers’ hearing with the city is scheduled for 1 p.m. Oct. 28 in Chittenden Superior Court.


Jack Lyons

About Jack

Jack Lyons is a 2021 graduate of the University of Notre Dame. He majored in theology with a minor in journalism, ethics and democracy. Jack previously interned at the Boston Globe, the Berkshire Eagle and WDEV radio in Waterbury. He also freelanced for VTDigger while studying remotely during the pandemic in 2020.

Email: [email protected]

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