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Burlington Settles Case Over Homeless Camp Removal Policy

An encampment in Burlington in 2017.
Liam Elder-Connors
VPR File
An encampment in Burlington in 2017 that was eventually taken down by the city. The ACLU of Vermont sued the city, alleging that the rights of the camp residents were violated.

Vermont's largest city has settled a lawsuit over allegations that it violated the rights of low-income residents.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont sued Burlington in 2017, alleging that the city violated the rights of Brian Croteau Sr. when he was kicked off an encampment on city property.

Croteau will receive $25,000 and Burlington will change its process for taking down homeless encampments, according to the settlement.

ACLU staff attorney Lia Ernst said the new policy creates a more rigorous process.

"It has to provide notice to the people who are sheltering there," Ernst said. "It has to provide them a means to remove their property or, if they are unable to do so, requires the city to store that property for 30 days."

According to Burlington City Attorney Eileen Blackwood, the city council still needs to formally adopt the policy.

"I have committed to bringing it ... with my recommendation that the city do do this policy," Blackwood said. "And in fact I think what we're going to be saying is that, for the most part, this is what we've been doing.”

But in settling the case, Blackwood added, the city is not admitting it did anything wrong. Blackwood also pointed to an early ruling in the case where a federal judge said the city's removal of property from the encampment was "not an unconstitutional seizure."

"Settlements are often usually just a way to say, ‘We are alleviating risk to the taxpayers,'" Blackwood said.

This is the third case the ACLU has brought in recent years over the treatment of low-income residents in Burlington. The previous two cases were also settled.

All together, Enrst said these cases have put in place more protections for marginalized residents.

"The city has done good working in making these improvements. We wouldn't keep bringing these cases if we didn't think they led to meaningful, long-term benefits," Ernst said. "Of course, as in any city, there’s still work to be done and we remain, as ever, committed to doing that work."

Liam is Vermont Public’s public safety reporter, focusing on law enforcement, courts and the prison system.
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