Gallagher comments don’t stop final passage of no-camping ordinance

       In opposing the no-camping ordinance Feb. 23, City Councilmember Tom Gallagher equated the law with one of the steps in Hitler's rise to power and philosophized that when the Pilgrims arrived on the Mayflower they too were homeless.

A tent site this week along Fountain Creek off Naegele Boulevard and 25th Street may or may not be called a "dump," but it will be illegal under the new city ordinance that city officials hope will be a tool to entice transient campers into safer, more sanitary permanent housing.
Westside Pioneer photo

       Such comments failed to persuade any of his colleagues to vote with him, but they did bring him loud applause from a council meeting room packed with homeless people and other ordinance opponents.
       Councilmem-ber Bernie Herpin rebutted Gallagher shortly after that by saying. “When the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock and there was no shelter, they didn't sit around pooping on a rock. They built houses, they made cities, they made a country. They didn't say, 'I'm going to live by the creek and go to the soup kitchen every day.' Likewise, we give you the opportunity to do the same thing.”
       Randy Purvis described what Gallagher said as “beyond the pale. It totally disrespects the Police Department and the City Attorney's Office and the city administrators who will be enforcing this ordinance.”
       The 8-1 approval on second-reading, without any wording changes, finalizes the law, although it will not technically be enforceable until five days after publication, which is scheduled for March 3, city staff said at the meeting. The vote actually approved two ordinances - one defining public camping and making it illegal without authorization and a second referring to the definition in specifying that camping is not allowed in parks.
       Council-member Scott Hente, as he had on first reading Feb. 9, made the motion for approval. He accepted an amendment into the motion from Councilmember Daryl Glenn to have city staff provide a detailed report on how the ordinance is working six months from now.
       Councilmembers have indicated they were moved to act in response to ever-increasing numbers of tent campers along its waterways - including Fountain Creek on the Westside - and issues of sanitation, crime and water pollution.
       The city had once cleared out such camps on a monthly basis, but a threatened lawsuit about two years ago ended that practice. Meanwhile, individuals, churches and other groups, eager to show compassion in the midst of an economic recession, stepped forward with so much assistance to campers that over the holidays food and clothing were even being discarded. During this time, according to someone who has worked with that population for many years, Colorado Springs became known as “a great place to be homeless,” and this in itself may have attracted campers from elsewhere.
       The council action will allow police to implement a procedure that Police Chief Richard Myers had described at the Feb. 9 meeting. Under the procedure, police will first warn campers, then come back no sooner than two days later. If there is no change in the situation, not even an effort to find shelter or a job, police will issue a ticket. Those ticketed will have their camping gear placed into an evidence locker, and the violators will be transported to a shelter. If there is no room at any shelter, the ticket will still be issued but the camp will be allowed to remain until there is.
       The plan relies on the presence of social service agencies, which rely to a large extent on donations, grants and volunteer help. Mayor Lionel Rivera suggested that the city, despite its financial straits, should dig into its reserves to help people make the transition from camping outside. But he did not put this in the form of a motion, and no other councilmember supported the idea.
       It is not known if the prospect of an ordinance has had an impact as yet on the camping numbers, but a citizen named Theresa McLaughlin told council she has personally helped remove 91 people from the camps out of 423 that she's talked to.
       Rivera suggested this would not have been possible “if we [the city] hadn't started this process.”
       McLaughlin said she has lined up most of the people she's relocated with the C-C Boarding House portion of the Express Inn at Eighth Street and Highway 24. C-C offers a deal where three people can share a room for $60 a week per person, with amenities including free food, clothing, internet access and counseling for jobs and public assistance.
       McLaughlin also asked council to delay enforcement of the ordinance for “at least 90 days” to provide an opportunity to deal with what she described as a “problem in a few of the camps. There are some drug issues and violence.”
       But such information instead seemed to heighten council's sense of urgency. Based on McLaughin's concerns the city should “not prolong the situation but move forward and get a handle on it,” Council-member Sean Paige said.
       As they had Feb. 9, several citizens came to the podium to speak against the ordinance. Among the criticisms was the point that the ordinance is based on one in Orlando, Fla., but it's colder here. Another speaker suggested allowing camping in places where it couldn't be seen from the highways. Another threatened a lawsuit and/or a recall. Others accused the city of immorality and of discriminating against the poor and homeless veterans.
       Although saying he actually supports the ordinance concept, anti-tax leader Doug Bruce reiterated his Feb. 9 charges that the law would lose a legal challenge - by contrast, the City Attorney's Office states that the Orlando law has withstood multiple challenges - and that any lawyer wanting to know how to attack it “can watch this tape.”
       Several of the opponents shouted catcalls while councilmembers were deliberating, with the largest concentration of this abuse following Herpin's rebuttal to Gallagher.
       Purvis scolded such individuals for being disrespectful, saying they'd had their turn to speak. “We heard you. We listened to you,” he said. “Sometimes we don't do what the majority of the people in the house suggest we should do. We act in what we think is the best interest of the 400,000 people living in Colorado Springs, and that is the basis of my decision. I would ask everyone in here who disagrees with that to at least respect my decision.”

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