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'Solutions team' to form in wake of Avenue Task Force meeting on vagrancy

Sept. 24, 2018
       After a wide-ranging two-hour public discussion on homeless/vagrancy issues Sept. 20 at the Westside's Gold Hill Police Substation, Avenue Task Force chair Welling Clark pledged to form a smaller “solutions team” that will meet in the near future.
       The team will research and share information in hopes of making inroads on the “negative behavior” that seems to be worsening on the Westside, he said, for
Councilmembers Bill Murray (standing) and Tom Strand attended the Avenue Task Force meeting Sept. 20.
Westside Pioneer photo
which “some causes are known, others are not.”
       Formed about five years ago, the ATF is an informal group of residents and business people around the West Colorado Avenue corridor, focused on reducing crime and improving the area.
       Clark invited the 50-plus attendees at the Gold Hill session to sign up for the "team," and there were some signs of interest afterward. In an e-mail two days later to those who left contact information at the meeting, Clark said he was looking for meeting space and planning to write a "draft of our path forward."
       Those on hand for the ATF meeting Sept. 20 included elected officials - Colorado Springs City Councilmembers Tom Strand and Bill Murray and County Commissioner Stan VanderWerf - police officials, business owners and residents from several Westside neighborhoods.
       Strand said he is continuing his own efforts to address vagrancy issues, mentioning a Sept. 27 “town hall” (6 to 7:30 p.m.) he and Murray will be holding at City Hall downtown, at which the subject could come up.
       Murray said the city is spending $1.5 million this year to raise the number of shelter beds in Colorado Springs to 550. That is the number that city officials believe is enough to handle all the people on a given night any time of the year who have no place else to go. The desired effect is the city feeling legally comfortable in letting its police consistently enforce its 2010 no-camping law, he noted. A current constraint for the City Attorney's Office is a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that says laws making public camping illegal when there are no shelter beds violate the “cruel and unusual punishment" clause in Amendment 8 of the U.S. Bill of Rights.
       The Sept. 20 gathering featured numerous statements from people about problems they have seen or experienced, including horrific waste at camps they've helped clean up, trespassers making a “campground” for themselves on open church land off 32nd Street north of Colorado Avenue, family fears of taking their children on public trails or to the parks and a sense that such problems keep getting worse.
       Throughout the discussion, speakers intermingled the terms “homeless” and “vagrants” when discussing criminal-type issues. This eventually became too much for business owner Dave Leinweber, whose Angler's Covey at Highway 24 and 21st Street had a close call with a camper's fire that got out of control last winter. “Quit using the term 'homelessness,'” he said to the group. “It's vagrancy.”
       VanderWerf announced that a fence south of Fountain Creek (south of the Red Rock shopping center) is being removed, in hopes that illegal campers there will stop using it as a shield. He said the entity owning the fence is the Colorado Department of Transportation, which had erected it years ago to control wildlife.

Westside Pioneer article
(Community: Ongoing Issues)

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