Over half of creekside campers gone

       Although the no-camping ordinance hasn't even been used yet, well over half of the tent-pitching transients have vacated their sites on public property since its approval in late February.
       “You better believe it, absolutely,” said Robert Holmes, director of Homeward Pikes Peak, the city umbrella agency for homeless issues, when asked if he thought the existence of the new law was part of the reason.
       In all, by March 10, out of more than 300 who had been camping along the creeks and in other public places a month ago, almost 200 are gone. The most popular place for them is the Express Inn (through its C-C Boarding House program), which has taken in more than 100 former campers. Another 40 or so have boarded buses to other communities - in keeping with Holmes' policy that tickets would only be bought if it could be determined that such people had programs and/or family ready to help them in their new destination.
       Not all of those coming up from the tents have thrived in motels. Holmes said that 27 had to be “dismissed for blatant infractions,” such as excessive drinking or trash. “We just don't have the luxury to tolerate behavior like that,” he said.
       Holmes also said his efforts have been aided by “exceedingly good luck.” Part of that luck has been Karl and Teresa McLaughlin, local business people who chose on their own last fall to start spending time with the campers and have of late convinced scores of them to move up to more permanent digs. Another part is the Express Inn owners, the Tiggemans, who had previously worked out a business model that makes use of volunteer help, donations and grants to offer rooms for as low as $60 a week, with food, clothing, phones, laundry, Internet access, paperwork and job counseling thrown in. That availability worked out well when Holmes obtained a $100,000 grant from the El Pomar Foundation that allows him to pay the motel costs for people who want to get off the creeks but have no money or jobs.
       There is no time limit for people staying at the Express Inn, said co-owner Barry Tiggeman. “However, anyone that is sponsored through the El Pomar grant must be actively working toward self-sufficiency (ie actively seeking jobs, sending out resumes, applying for food stamps in a timely manner, looking for more permanent housing, etc.),” he said. “It is not the goal of the El Pomar grant to assist in laziness and apathy.”
       So far the effort to find work for the relocated has been a success story. “Nobody (out of 29) has lost their jobs,” Holmes said. “They're hungry, in the metaphorical sense.”
       If any business needs workers, he urged them to call him at 955-0731. “We do screen people,” he noted. “So we're careful who we send out.”
       The remaining 125 or so creekside campers may be a little tougher to uproot. Holmes said many are drug and alcohol abusers and have declined requests to move so far. But Officer Brett Iverson, who leads the special Colorado Springs Police Homeless Outreach Team (HOT Team, as it's known) said he thinks there are “just five, maybe,” who might resist once police start handing out warnings (they've held off doing that until this week). One of them even told him, “You're going to have to arrest me,” Iverson said. “But I still hope to get out of this without writing one ticket.”
       A potential problem in the homeless relocation effort looms in May, which is when the El Pomar grant is expected to run out. This has brought criticism from some of those who had argued against the no-camping ordinance to begin with, saying the motel-relocation effort will fall apart as a result. But Holmes said he is working to find other assistance, from sources such as churches and individuals who were donating food, firewood and clothing to the homeless in the camps. He is urging them now to start providing case management for the increasing numbers of people trying to rise up from homelessness.
       But in the end, Holmes believes, personal incentive is necessary. “The difference between the liberal do-gooders and me is that they see homelessness as a permanent situation, and I don't,” Holmes said. “I ask not to be called a homeless advocate. I'm an advocate for self-sufficiency.”
       City Council approved what are two ordinances Feb. 23, essentially disallowing public camping.

Westside Pioneer article