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City Council to discuss enforcement of laws governing illegal camping, fires

A photo from mid-January shows the remains of an abandoned camp (since cleaned up by the city) in Vermijo Park, beside the community mural next to Fountain Creek and the Midland Trail, just west of 26th Street. See the photo below for when the camp was still active. The camp, illegal under a city ordinance, had been established around the start of December, with authorities allowing it to remain for several weeks when the city's overnight shelters were full.
Westside Pioneer photo
Feb. 15, 2018
       As requested by District 1 City Councilmember Don Knight, council plans to seek clarification at the body's next work session Monday, Feb. 26. about “what we can and can't do” in enforcing Colorado Springs laws governing illegal camping.
       He brought the subject up briefly at the Feb. 12 work session. Interviewed afterward, Knight said that in a year when impromptu camps - and so-called “warming fires” - have become a common sight along waterways and trails and in parks and various out-of-the-way locations, concerns about safety and community impacts are shared by “several of us on council.”
       He continued, “We want to know what our options are.”
This is a view of a transient camp beside Fountain Creek, just west of 26th Street, when it was still active in early January. See photo above for how it looked after the occupants departed about two weeks later.
Westside Pioneer photo
In a separate interview, Andy Phelps, the city's homeless prevention coordinator, said that many of the problems people see (or experience) are caused by “chronically homeless” people who often have mental or drug issues. He said the city and nonprofit agencies are working to get such people into housing with specialized services to help them. Plans have been approved to build 115 units for that purpose (in two locations east of downtown). However, completion of the first 50 units is not expected until 2019, he said.
       Knight, whose district covers areas of the Westside roughly north of Uintah Street, elaborated that for the Feb. 26 meeting, he would like to have high-level staff on hand from the City Attorney's Office and the Police and Fire departments. Specifically, he said, he is seeking answers about the following:
       - How much warning must be given to people camping and/or trespassing on private property?
       For example, a woman at the Jan. 11 Westside Community Center public meeting on homeless activities said she'd found a transient who'd snuck into
Colorado Springs City Councilmember Don Knight is shown at a council meeting in 2017.
Westside Pioneer photo from Springs TV
her house. “Did she have to wait 48 hours to get him out?” Knight asked.
       - To what extent are law officers' hands tied by recent court interpretations of Amendment 8 of the U.S. Constitution, which indicate that local governments can't violate individuals' “right to survival”?
       The Jan. 11 meeting left the impression that because of Amendment 8, if the shelters have no space, police may not be able to enforce the city's ordinance prohibiting camping on public land.
       “Where I'm coming from is, what are our options if someone is violating the city's no-camping ordinance, and how is it different when shelter beds are available and when they aren't?” Knight asked.
       - Can the warning time for people camping illegally on public property be reduced?
       In the seven-plus years since council passed the no-camping law, police have made it clear that they will wait at least 48 hours before issuing citations, once a warning has been given. "The mayor wants to bring it down to 24 hours," Knight said.
       As for himself, he pondered, “If we have a public no-camping law, why can't they be gone in an hour?” At the same time, he said he doubts that police have the manpower to go back and check that often.
       - In the interests of health and sanitation, can the city limit how far a camp can be established from a creek?
       This is another question that's been expressed by Mayor John Suthers, according to Knight.
       - Regarding “warming fires,” which the Fire Department has said are allowable if they meet international standards for “recreational fires,” Knight said that council members want more clarification on how that's being enforced.
       He thanked Dave Leinweber, owner of Angler's Covey, for helping raise such questions after fires from two camps threatened his business at 21st and Highway 24 in early January.
       Council work sessions are open to the public, but citizen comments are not taken, unless councilmembers agree to do so. The location is City Hall, 107 N. Nevada Ave., with the meeting starting at 1 p.m.

Westside Pioneer article
(Community: Public Safety)

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