City: Homeless camps OK on public lands (except parks)
Stronger ordinances contingent on community stepping forward and asking for them

       Parks are off limits, but transients can camp in any other public places they want to, under a new city policy.

Can you spot the blue tent on the left side in this photo of Fountain Creek just south of where it curves under Highway 24 east of Eighth Street? Homeless campsites are often hidden away like this.
Westside Pioneer photo

       Based on the opinion of the City Attorney's Office, current ordinances are not strong enough to require people to relocate tents, sleeping bags and general paraphernalia from trails and other public places, said Deputy Police Chief Ron Gibson during an informal meeting on homeless issues at the Gold Hill substation March 31.
       An example is the highly visible area north of Highway 24 and Fountain Creek, just west of I-25.
       In such cases, “we're not going to ask them to move,” Gibson said. “We feel we need additional ordinances, if that's what the community wants us to do. If the community wants us to support that, we'll do it. If not, we won't.”
       Gibson said that police have heard some complaints from residents about homeless camps, regarding such activities as nudity and lighting campfires. “They're not happy about it,” he said.
       As for transients camping on private property, the law is clear, he said. If a campsite is on private land and the owner complains, police will make the individuals move on, Gibson said.
       The meeting had been called at the request of City Council member Jerry Heimlicher to give homeless advocates a chance to consider the final form of a revised police plan for cleaning up homeless camps. No opposition to the plan was heard from the 30 or so people at the meeting. Patrick Ayers of Pax Christi, who had once threatened a lawsuit against the city over the constitutional issue of homeless people's property rights, said that with the revised policy the issue is “reasonably under control,” but pledged to take action if he decides otherwise.
       In the past, city police, with help from city-contracted Keep Colorado Springs Beautiful (KCSB), has run monthly “sweeps” to pick up the trash - often reportedly finding drug needles and liquor bottles - that campers have left around their camping areas. Because of the constitutional concerns, the city has not done a sweep since October, and Gold Hill Commander Kurt Pillard had even suggested in January that hazardous material gear might be necessary to clean up some areas.
       No date has been announced for the plan to go back to City Council, although it will be tested in a cleanup east of downtown April 18, Pillard said.
       Heimlicher said afterward he favors the plan and is also open to proposals from community groups regarding the ordinance changes Gibson spoke of.
       The plan, unchanged from what was presented to council in March, includes the following provisions:
  • Posting signs giving advance notice of cleanups (72 hours) so campers will have a chance to get their valuables together
  • Posting signs telling campers how and where they can recover any valuables that may have inadvertently been taken, and
  • Establishing a group of “community overseers” (Pax Christi and others) who will serve as property rights “watchdogs” during the cleanup process.
  • Westside Pioneer article