Draft of no-camping law to council; seen as tool in blatant transiency
After months of staff consideration, an ordinance that would prohibit camping on public land without a permit is scheduled to go before City Council at its informal
meeting Monday, Dec. 7.
Although the word “homeless” does not appear in the proposed law, City Police view it as a potential tool for dealing with hard-core transients who refuse help getting off the streets and cause sanitation problems with their camps. “There are people who don't want to work with us,” Gold Hill Police Commander Kurt Pillard said in a recent interview. “Those are the ones for whom this would be helpful.”
For example, the Police Department's Homeless Outreach Team (HOT) recently found a camp with 11 buckets, five gallons each, filled with excrement. The campers “were using the creek as a sewer,” Pillard said.
Under the law, people camping overnight on public land would be violating the law unless they obtained a permit from City Parks. An example, provided by Pillard, was “Boy Scouts getting a merit badge.”
Police have been working with the City Attorney's Office since last spring in an attempt to draft a law in response to the increasing numbers of camps, (many of them found near Fountain Creek on the Westside). The writing effort has included researching no-camping laws that have proven effective in other cities, particularly Orlando, Fla., according to the commander.
The date first announced for council consideration of the ordinance was Nov. 23, but it was moved back to Dec. 7 to allow more time to finalize the text, Pillard said.
In the meantime, the Avenue Merchants, a recently formed group of 30-some businesses west of 31st Street, is beginning a survey effort to see how citizens in that area feel about the concept of the law. The results will be presented to City Council, said Robert Maez, who helped created the group late last summer. Although he himself believes the camps in that area (chiefly along Fountain Creek) represent health, safety and crime risks, “we want to get people's opinions,” he said. “We can't separate the merchants from the community.”
Regarding the Avenue Merchants' appeal to the city at a public meeting in September for help in dealing with a lengthy list of issues related to increasing numbers of transient campsites along Fountain Creek, Maez said there have been “huge improvements” stemming from the city response. “At last count, 16 people have been moved out of the homeless camps and into housing. Police also found some people with warrants - six or eight of them with major crime issues. It's been phenomenal.”
Two large neighborhood groups have already come out in favor of an ordinance controlling camping - the Council of Neighbors and Organizations (CONO) and the Organization of Westside Neighbors (OWN). OWN this week was crafting a new statement in support of getting public camping under control, although several members expressed concern that only certain areas should be designated for permits.
The plan will have at least one opponent. Patrick Ayers, who has emerged locally as a vociferous advocate for homeless rights, said he and others already are brainstorming a response to the ordinance proposal. “I can't discuss what we're planning, but the city won't appreciate it,” he said.
Ayers agreed that the camps are “eyesores,” but asserted, “These are hard times, and hard times happen to people. America isn't always going to look pristine.”
Saying that transient campers have individual problems, mental issues and/or addictions that can't be solved with criminal citations, he compared himself to St. Francis: “One at a time, I pull them off the street,” he said.
Westside Pioneer article