'Homeless presence' leads city to remove shelter for bus riders at Colorado & 30thDec. 1, 2017
In 2014, complaints about people occupying the eastbound Colorado Avenue bus bench at 28th Street - but never riding the bus - led Colorado Springs' Mountain Metro Transit to remove it for several weeks before putting it back.
A similar problem came to a head this November at the bus stop for eastbound Colorado Avenue at 30th Street.
This time it was a bus shelter that was removed. A bench remains.
“It was in response to a homeless presence at that shelter,” explained Craig Blewitt, director of City Transit. The roofed structure, which had surrounded
The removal followed a complaint from Tim Payne, owner of the Mason Jar restaurant, 2925 W. Colorado Ave. The business is directly behind the bus stop, with its parking lot immediately south of the sidewalk on which the shelter once stood near the curb.
“What happened was, it became overwhelming,” said Payne, who co-founded the restaurant in 1982. “It became a party spot for transients. Sometimes at 9 in morning they'd be there, and when I'd leave at 8 in the evening they would be passed out in front of it. At times, there would be as many as a half-dozen, and I'd see them pass a bottle around. People actually using the bus would have to stand outside the shelter on the sidewalk.”
Occasionally, inebriated occupiers would “stagger into the Mason Jar parking lot and solicit from our guests,” Payne continued. Once he had customers who told him they were “afraid to leave until they [the transients] were dispersed” (which Payne managed to do). At other times, they would defecate in his parking lot - once in front of a 17-year-old employee, he said.
Payne praised City Councilmember Merv Bennett, who lives in the Cedar Heights area of the Westside, for alerting City Transit. After repeated incidents in October, the
The 30th Street stop is used for two bus routes - 3, which runs daily; and 16, which runs Monday through Friday.
Shelters are typically installed at stops with high ridership and multiple routes and are also convenient for riders waiting for transfers, Blewitt said.
The shelter had been in front of his business for at least 15 years, Payne estimated. Until about four years ago it served its designed purpose. The occupiers - not always the same people - were rare at first, but they came more and more over time, he said.
Adding to the mix is an illegal, makeshift, trash-strewn camping area that keeps reappearing at the base of the short hill behind the Mason Jar property, alongside Fountain Creek and the Midland Trail. It also doesn't help that there's a liquor store a block away.
Payne has only called 911 on a few occasions - once when a shelter occupier passed out drunk in the restaurant driveway. “I stood out there and made sure nobody ran over him till the paramedics came,” he said.
Usually, he would just monitor the interlopers, taking action only if their activities immediately affected his business.
The most recent incident was a night in early November, when a fight broke out in the shelter after one of the occupiers came into the Mason Jar saying he was afraid because others had weapons. Payne has photos showing several emergency vehicles in his parking lot that night.
Sgt. Scott Wisler, who has worked with the Colorado Springs Police Homeless Outreach (HOT) Team, had no personal recollection of problems at the 30th Street site; he said another section of the department or the 911 office would have to be contacted for specific reports. In any case, he pointed out, “it's not a violation if someone is sitting on a bus bench not utilizing the bus system.”
Even if someone were to lay out a bedroll on a bench or shelter, he would still get a 48-hour warning before police could cite him under the no-public-camping law, Wisler said. In answer to a question, he said that such a time frame, along with other police interpretations of law, are guided by policies set by city legal staff.
Blewitt did not offer details on how the “homeless situation” would have to improve before City Transit would consider reinstalling a shelter at 30th and Colorado. On the other hand, he pointed out that if the problem gets worse, “the option is open” that the bench as well could be taken out.
When the bench at Colorado and 28th was temporarily removed in 2014, the city thinking was that it would “change the culture” - as Blewitt phrased it then - and that the perpetrators would no longer consider the location for a hangout.
Linda Schlarb, owner of the propane business near 28th and Colorado, doesn't think the strategy is working. The restored bench at that stop “is always full of bums,” she said in a recent e-mail.
Although pleased that the 30th-and-Colorado shelter removal has improved things for the Mason Jar, Payne is worried there's a bigger issue the city is inadequately addressing. “All of us who live here and are raising our families here, the city is putting them [the vagrants] above our children - above everyone else,” he said. As for the lawyers involved in fashioning that reality, “they would have a different opinion,” Payne said, “if they had to have their families exposed to it.”
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