With support from CONO, city preparing law to curtail transient camping
Five weeks ago, city officials made it known that without a stronger ordinance they could not stop transients from camping in public places other than parks.
The effort to write that ordinance has begun, according to Kurt Pillard, commander of the Colorado Springs Police Department's Gold Hill substation. “There are some ordinances in other locations, Chicago for instance, that say it's not legal to store private property on public property,” he said. “That's how our attorney is leaning toward constructing our ordinance.”
The issue arose last October after homeless advocates and a veterans' rights group questioned the legality of the methods used in city “sweeps” to clean up unauthorized camping areas, including places on the Westside along Fountain Creek. In response, the city stopped the sweeps while its attorneys studied the civil rights aspects in city laws.
Support for stronger ordinances has been heard from neighborhoods citywide, through their umbrella group, the Council of Neighbors and Organizations (CONO). “CONO is very supportive of revising ordinances to make it easier to keep public spaces clean,” Dave Munger, CONO president, told the Westside Pioneer. “I think we're all in agreement that something needs to be done.”
The Organization of Westside Neighbors (OWN), a member of CONO, had a consensus in favor of stronger ordinances on homeless camping at its April board meeting. “We're all on the same page,” OWN President Welling Clark said at that time. Planning to meet with other neighborhood groups (the Central Coalition and CONO), he added, “we'll see if we can come up with the best solution.”
The neighborhood support is “absolutely” helpful to the city's efforts, Pillard said. “It boils down to us being public servants. We listen to what direction the community wants to take and then we try to go in that direction.”
No date has been set for developing the new ordinance. Munger thinks that, “given the nature of other problems facing the city, it will be at least a month or more.”
Pillard said that he plans to give an update at CONO's June meeting.
Regarding the sweeps, no city-run cleanups of known transient camping areas have taken place since October. However, that's about to change. Pillard said that a cleanup is scheduled Saturday, May 16 along the corridor that includes Fountain Creek, the Midland Trail and Highway 24 west of I-25. City-contracted Keep Colorado Springs Beautiful (KCSB) will “zig-zag” through that corridor, he said.
The Police Department worked over the winter with homeless advocates and other citizens on a new policy meant to ensure that the “campers” get plenty of advance notice of sweeps and, when they do occur, that no belongings (such as medications or veterans' legal papers) are accidentally mixed with the trash that's rounded up and thrown out. Another part of the new policy is that police won't take an active role in the cleanups but will stay in the vicinity, in case incidents occur or illegal items are found.
Pillard had warned several weeks ago that because of the freeze on the cleanup sweeps, some places where campers have settled might need people in haz-mat suits to do the work. He said he didn't know if that would be an issue May 16, but if any such spots are found they will be skipped by KCSB because they are not licensed for such duty.
Westside Pioneer article