All agree No Man’s Land needs help
Task force of leaders to follow up on issues raised in well-attended meeting at Shrine Club
Close to 150 people, sick and tired of ne'er-do-wells in No Man's Land, turned out for a public meeting April 4 on what to do about it.
Many of them talked about crimes they've suffered through, panhandlers they've constantly dealt with and ideas on how to make the area of Colorado Avenue west of 31st Street a better place.
At least a dozen law enforcement representatives were present, including City Police Chief Pete Carey and El Paso County Patrol Division Commander Rob King. There were also four members of City Council (Scott Hente, Bernie Herpin, Tim Leigh and Brandy Williams), County Commissioner Sallie Clark and her Republican primary opponent, Karen Magistrelli.
Various comments indicated that authorities were impressed by the throng. “The showing tonight shows how important this is to you,” King said at one point.
Held at the Shrine Club off 33rd Street and Pikes Peak Avenue, the two- hour meeting was set up mainly through the combined efforts of three entities - the area's Avenue Merchants (representing businesses west of 31st), the Grandview neighborhood (homes north of the avenue and west of 31st) and the Organization of Westside Neighbors (OWN) (the advocacy group for the older Westside).
Near the end of the meeting, OWN President Welling Clark said that efforts would continue through a “stakeholder task force,” including elected officials and senior law enforcement officers, which will take shape over the next few weeks and begin “addressing issues at the policy level.”
Also, added Sallie Clark, a study of No Man's Land infrastructure needs, funded by a $300,000 grant, will soon be under way; and funding for actual improvements there will likely be on the “A” list for the proposed renewal of the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority that will go before voters this fall.
Clark, Bonnie Lapora of Grandview, Mike Crepeau of the Avenue Merchants and others also plan to continue updating City Council during the Citizen Discussion portion of formal council meetings.
Carey pledged to the audience, “I am committed to try to find a solution.” But he also noted that law enforcement has to have citizen support, and “we need a sustained effort to have a lasting effect.”
But local government came in for some criticism of its own, with individuals complaining about unanswered calls to police or mix-ups resulting from having three jurisdictions west of 33rd (city on the north side, county on the south and Manitou west of Columbia).
One person asked why the city doesn't just annex the county portion, but Sallie Clark and Hente pointed out that residents would need to initiate a petition for that to happen.
An especially emphasized message at the meeting was not to give money to panhandlers. “Don't feed the bears,” King said, half-jokingly. City laws limit where begging is allowed in public and makes it a crime for people to be asked for money after an initial refusal.
Generally, people were told, such cash handouts only go to feed a booze or drug habit, often resulting in the recipient passing out in public and being transported to a hospital's emergency room. Bob Holmes, head of Homeward Pikes Peak (the city's umbrella agency on homeless issues), said the average cost of such calls is $2,000 to $3,000 each. To drive home his point, Holmes asked the audience to guess the record number of emergency runs for the same transient in a year. One person called out “50,” and Holmes shook his head. “Two hundred sixty,” he corrected.
Based on comments by authorities and meeting attendees, a picture was drawn of No Man's Land problems worsening in recent years and neighborhoods getting less liveable. Perpetrators came across not as hard-luck homeless but as increasingly brazen criminal types, many of them drunks or druggies with mental instabilities, living in the small, old motels west of 34th Street. But officials' hands are tied as to putting pressure on the motel owners, King said in answer to a question.
Other commonly mentioned problems at the meeting were people breaking into homes, theft of mail and other valuables, physical threats, drunkenness, prostitution and drug dealing.
A robbery at the Papa Murphy's pizza store in the Red Rock shopping Center earlier this year, in which the suspect threatened an employee with a machete, has added to the recent public outcry.
Criminal problems aren't limited to No Man's Land, based on meeting comments. Speakers noted similar problems in Manitou Springs, in or near Old Colorado City, along the Midland Trail and even up the hill, off Gold Camp Road.
Westside Pioneer article