Homeless meeting at Gold Hill station; camp cleanups still on hold

       With a city moratorium against homeless camp cleanups still in effect, city officials will again meet with representatives of the local transient populace Tuesday, Jan. 27.
       The informal session, part of a continuing effort to resolve homeless issues - including a mutually acceptable plan for camp cleanups - will start at 1:30 p.m. at the Gold Hill Police substation, 955 W. Moreno Ave.
       The public is invited, according to Gold Hill Commander Kurt Pillard.
       A key figure in the meeting will be Bob Holmes, director of Homeward Pikes Peak, an umbrella agency for area homeless services, who has been designated to report back to City Council Feb. 24. “It's not going to be an easy solution,” he said in an interview this week, because of the ongoing conflict of people's rights.
       Homeless backers believe transients should be able to bed down where they want, but “Westside folks are getting irate about the camps, because they're infringing on the rights of the people that live there,” Holmes said.
       Also, he noted that of the estimated 200 “chronically homeless” who live that way, about two-thirds have mental problems and many are alcoholics.
       Because of the moratorium, ordered by Mayor Lionel Rivera, none of the camps has been “swept” by City Police and subcontracted clean-up crews, which normally handles such tasks on a monthly basis, since last October.
       “We have to make progress pretty quickly,” Pillard said. “Half of the trash is covered by snow or frozen into the ground. Cleaning it up in the spring will be a monumental task, because it's been accumulating.”
       The Westside concerns have included reports to police about petty thievery in Old Colorado City last fall and a December neighborhood meeting on the proposed expansion of the Bear Creek Plaza shopping center at Eighth and Highway 24 that included several complaints about homeless people from the creek area causing problems.
       New this week were reports from neighbors about seeing nighttime bonfires from the camps along Fountain Creek between Eighth Street and I-25.
       “I'm concerned about the high fire danger,” said Sallie Clark, a Westside resident and county commissioner. “We have some businesses down there. It wouldn't be a good thing if one of the fires got into the brush and cottonwoods [that grow around the creek].”
       She added a question about why people are allowed to camp there at all. “City ordinances don't allow camping in parks overnight,” she said. And, at unsupervised homeless camps, without restrooms or bathing facilities, the people use the creek for those purposes, which impairs area health and stream quality, she pointed out.
       Pillard said that most of the areas where the homeless set up tents or lay out sleeping bags is in Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) right of way. However, Tim Harris, CDOT Region 2 director, said that by statute the city is responsible for crime enforcement on either side of the highway.
       In any case, the city will enforce the law against fires, Pillard said. He urged people to call police if they see bonfires along the creek. Even if there is a clean-up moratorium, “we can't have open fires,” he said.
       The clean-up moratorium resulted from threats of lawsuits by homeless supporters last October who alleged that the city was constitutionally violating individuals' rights when police and a subcontracted service ran “sweeps” to pick up trash from homeless camps in out-of-the-way places around the city, including spots along Fountain Creek. Police have reported frequently finding empty liquor bottles and drug needles in such sweeps.
       Rivera said in October that the moratorium would last until the City Attorney's Office had a chance to sort out the constitutional issues. In separate interviews this week, neither Pillard nor Sue Blumberg of the City Manager's Office said they had heard any news about whether the city attorney has made any progress.
       Holmes said a related issue is the closing of Pikes Peak Mental Health's detoxification facility Jan. 31. A replacement facility is being considered, one that would provide 40 “sobering beds” and a greater opportunity to reach out to transient drunks, so that the locale could be more than just a place for them to sleep before they go out and get drunk again, he said. However, the city will be a gap in detox services because the new unit could not be up and running any earlier than April, he said.
       A location has not been determined, but would likely be in an industrial area, so as not to upset any neighborhoods. “We don't even need rooms, just a bay to put the beds in,” Holmes elaborated. “We're not looking to make this the Antlers. We just don't want them to freeze to death, or get beaten up.”

Westside Pioneer article