City Council to revisit no-camping law; idea is to clear out tents but not strand the needful

       If it works the way Colorado Springs Police envision it, a no-camping ordinance will have the dual impact of providing better lives for current creekside denizens and restoring parks and trails to their intended uses.
       City Council is scheduled to reconsider the proposal - which was laid aside without a vote in December - at the Feb. 8 informal meeting, and possibly approve it at the formal confab the next day.
       In the Dec. 7 discussion, three council members had expressed doubts that such an ordinance would show sufficient “compassion” to the homeless, but since then the body has kept talking about the issue, including emerging concerns about creek pollution, human health and sanitation, city costs ($350,000 for police alone) and how an ordinance might mesh with longstanding city goals to end homelessness.
       The main council concern at present, as voiced by Mayor Lionel Rivera, appears to be whether local shelters will have enough beds if public areas are cleared of what has been estimated at anywhere between 200 and 500 campers. Bob Holmes, director of Homeward Pikes Peak (the city's umbrella agency for homeless issues), has assured council that's not a problem, while Patrick Ayers, the most vocal ordinance opponent, has insisted otherwise.
       Should the ordinance pass, police would get around that question by only requiring people to move from the creek if there were shelter space, according to interviews with Brett Iverson of the Police Department's three-member Homeless Outreach Team (HOT) and Kurt Pillard, who had spearheaded much of the PD's homeless effort before recently transferring to Investigations from his position as commander of the Westside's Gold Hill station.
       Pillard said police have worked out an entire “SOP” (standard operating procedure) to “address any constitutional challenges” to the ordinance. As explained by Pillard and Iverson, police would start with a “courtesy warning” to public-area campers. The warning would be in writing, including a date, and time and place, and would include a referral to local service providers who could help them with any need, such as work or education. “If the HOT team can provide transportation to the providers, they will,” Pillard said.
       Iverson added that a new option being offered to transients is a paid bus ride to a place where they might find better opportunities. “We've heard a lot of people saying they just want to get home,” he said. The money is coming from a $5,000 grant from the Salvation Army. The option is proving popular, Iverson said - already, eight campers have used it, with more showing interest.
       The idea is not to just send people out of town, he added: Before buying the ticket, HOT will call ahead to the would-be destination to make sure that one or more people - family or friends - truly are interested in helping the bus rider.
       One thing police also have to watch out for is scammers hoping to get a free bus ride, such as a recent man who was hoping to go to Florida, where he didn't know anyone but liked the idea of warmer weather. “We told him, 'Fine then, get your own ticket,'” Iverson said.
       After the initial warning to campers, no sooner than 48 hours later, “If we find the same person there, he can be cited for a violation,” Pillard said. “But so we don't clog up the criminal justice system, the district attorney's office has agreed to defer prosecution if the person can show he's participated in any of the things on the referral list or gotten housing elsewhere.”
       Overall, the whole point is “not to be punitive but to give a helping hand,” Pillard said. However, he wouldn't be surprised, even though “I hope it doesn't get that far,” that “there will be people who thumb their noses at us.” In such cases, there will be what he described as a “discretionary process” in which (if there is room at a shelter) officers could issue a ticket and remove the tent and sleeping bag as evidence.
       Iverson elaborated that in such a case HOT would take the individual to a shelter. “We're not going to just take their stuff and let them go,” he said. If there is no space at a shelter, the ticket would still be issued, with notification to the violators that once there is space their camp has to go.
       For the Westside, business owner Cary Vogrin pointed out at the Jan. 28 meeting of the Organization of Westside Neighbors (OWN) a possible side effect if the no- camping law passes - which is that some of those now pitching tents in the downtown/Near Westside will relocate to areas of the creek west of 31st Street that are under jurisdiction of the county or Manitou Springs (which do not have such a law). However, Bob Holmes, who also spoke at the meeting, said he has talked to officials with those governments and “I think that will work out.”
       Pillard said the basic ordinance proposal has not changed since December. At that time, police actually proposed two ordinances - one banning camping in parks and a second disallowing camping on any public property without a permit.

Westside Pioneer article