City Council likes homeless-camp sweep plans, but... one more meeting

       Under an amended procedure that provides wider notice and less police presence, city-funded cleanup sweeps of homeless camps should resume in March, Police Chief Richard Myer told City Council at its Feb. 23 meeting.
       However, City Council members, irked that Myers had not widely disseminated a report explaining the new plan beforehand, have called for an informal meeting of homeless “stakeholders” to make sure they understand it and have a chance to comment on it prior to the next sweep. The meeting date had not been finalized at deadline.
       In his defense, Myers said that most of the stakeholders (including social service agencies, veterans' advocates, local residents and the media) had participated in meetings leading up to the report, so its recommendations should be no surprise.
       The sweeps have traditionally been necessary on a monthly basis because of transients (often alcoholic or mentally unstable) camping illegally in public places and leaving piles of trash behind. However, five months have now passed since the last of these sweeps because the city stopped them. The decision to do so came in response to threatened lawsuits. It was alleged at the time - but no complaint was ever filed with authorities - that certain homeless veterans were being treated badly and their possessions thrown away.
       Previously, the sweeps had involved police and Keep Colorado Springs Beautiful (KCSB), a litter-control business that contracts with the city. The report lists the police recommendations that resulted from three stakeholder meetings since October. “Perhaps the most significant change,” Myers told council, “will be the inclusion of community representatives from homeless advocacy groups to help in identifying abandoned property and public health risk-type materials, to say what's trash and what isn't.”
       Other recommendations are:
  • No new city ordinances are needed to make the sweeps legal (this followed a review by the City Attorney's Office).
  • Although police officers will be present, they will be “at a distance,” but close enough to be called in the event of a disturbance or KCSB finding contraband.
  • Notice of sweeps will be posted “along city trails and known camp sites,” and homeless “resource areas” (such as the soup kitchen or homeless shelter).
  • CSPD will let social service providers know about any items recovered during the cleanups that are in police custody.
           Myers also stood up for KCSB, in response to charges about insensitive behavior (from homeless people and their advocates in regard to past sweeps). He said the agency “was doing exactly what police told them to do.”
           Council heard positive feedback during the citizen discussion portion of its meeting Feb. 25 from Rick Duncan, head of a veterans' rights group who had talked about a lawsuit in October. He told council that “the majority of points we have come to agree on [about the cleanups] have been great.” But he predicted that more people may wind up in homeless camps if the economy continues to be poor.
           For updated information on the situation, Gold Hill Station is at 385-2100.

    Westside Pioneer article