Council to mull no-camping law; HOT effort gets praise

       Mayor Lionel Rivera, Councilman Randy Purvis and Gold Hill Police Commander Kurt Pillard talked about a possible no-camping ordinance during an Oct. 12 meeting discussion about ways to approach the growing issue of outdoor transients throughout the community.

This relatively large transient camp, hidden by trees from nearby Highway 24, was spotted recently by a volunteer highway cleanup crew about 500 feet west of Ridge Road. Recent city policies have stressed helping the homeless find services in hopes of coaxing them out of camping on public lands.
Westside Pioneer photo

       The intent of the agenda item was to stress the positive results of the Police Department's Homeless Outreach Team (HOT). The three-member unit has been working since June to connect the homeless with a range of programs, agencies and people that can help them out.
       The strategy - which brought several council comments of approval - has a potential monetary reward, in that every transient off the street means an average annual savings of $54,000 in terms of police, fire and medical services, a police report states. Conversely, police believe that past city philosophies of making arrests, writing tickets and displacing transients “does not seem to be effective and may subject us to litigation.”
       Near the end of the discussion, Purvis asked about the status of a no-camping ordinance that the police and city attorney have been drafting independently of HOT.
       Pillard replied that such a law “would be an effective tool for us to have for individuals who are not willing to work with us.” He added that he would be willing to discuss the idea in detail at a future meeting if council wanted to do so.
       “I'm asking for that,” Purvis said.
       “Then we'll get it on your calendar,” Pillard said.
       The transient camping problem west of 31st Street was dramatized two weeks ago at the initial public meeting of the new Avenue Merchants group, during which citizens talked anecdotally about increases in Fountain Creek camps, panhandlers and crime. In response, City Police Chief Richard Myers agreed to form a task force to meet with merchants and other interested groups to plan specific solutions - an effort that got under way this week.
       At the council meeting, Rivera said deeper discussion of the ordinance ramifications would be an “interesting exercise.” He said he could support a law making it illegal to camp “along a waterway that is somebody's drinking water downstream, but what do we do with the people we displace?” All that would result in, he said, was “just moving the problem.”
       In a separate interview, Bob Holmes, director of Homeward Pikes Peak, the city's umbrella agency on homeless issues, said there is room at the Salvation Army's homeless shelter for any people who are willing to give up drinking or drugs and to better themselves. (The shelter lays out mats for anybody, even drunks, when the temperature gets under 32 degrees.)
       Holmes said he believes the number of campers citywide increased over the summer by roughly 25 percent, reaching about 500 now, although “it's incredibly hard to count.”
       Between April and September, “I couldn't believe the difference,” he said. “Maybe it's just because they're less inclined to be clandestine, because they're right along the trails.” This impacts the rights of individuals, he added, because “you've got women and girls running down there.”
       (Note: Patrick Ayers, a homeless advocate who knows many campers by name, disputed in another interview the amount of space at the center, leaving him to assert that some people, even at least one family, are living on the creek who would rather not be. He also said that several outdoor “residents” he knows have physical or mental problems or misfortunes that complicate their getting jobs or otherwise adapting to “normal” life.)
       At the meeting, Pillard warned from experience that many campers like to “live out under the stars” and won't relocate to the shelter and work with one or more of nine police-recognized help providers. “If we force them into a housing area they don't want to be in, we'll contact them on the trails again and write them another ticket and start the whole cycle over again.” The goal of HOT, Pillard elaborated, is to “link them to services rather than try to arrest them.”
       Rivera revealed that he had spent a couple of hours touring transient camps with HOT officers. “I was impressed by the creativity of the homeless community and how they set up their camps and how they sleep,” Rivera said. “For them, it's their homes. You'd think you're out in a national park campground; that's basically what they've done. But there are certainly better alternatives… Anything we can do to move in that direction would be much better.”

Westside Pioneer article