Homeless camps hit by storm as Colorado Springs’ creekside camping ban takes effect
Author: Jakob Rodgers, The Gazette - July 25, 2018 - Updated: August 9, 2018
Homeless advocates said some creekside camps washed downstream as a storm pummeled the Pikes Peak region Monday, the day a ban on camping near waterways in Colorado Springs took effect.
No injuries or fatalities among the city’s homeless population were reported due to the storm, city officials said.
The deluge came as police began enforcing the new ban on camping within 100 feet of waterways. Camping there was already illegal, but enforcement is expected to be stricter because police won’t consider the availability of shelter beds before issuing tickets.
It really underscores the importance of people not camping next to waterways. It’s dangerous,” said Andrew Phelps, the city’s homelessness prevention and response coordinator.
The law is needed to protect people from flash floods and to reduce trash and E. coli in waterways, its supporters said. But opponents say the law unfairly targets people experiencing homelessness, especially as surveys suggest far more people live outside than shelters can safely accommodate.
The Springs Rescue Mission hosted 297 people Monday night, nearly filling it.
Many other homeless people camping far from creeks saw their tents, sleeping bags and other belongings destroyed in the downpour, said Beth Roalstad, Homeward Pikes Peak’s executive director.
“We’ve had people report that they’ve lost everything,” said Kristy Milligan, CEO of Westside CARES. More shelter was needed for people moving away from creekside areas, she said. “It doesn’t matter if they are displaced by a ban or an onslaught of water. They still need somewhere to be.”
Even before the storm hit, police appeared to change their enforcement of the new law. This month, police Lt. Mike Lux, head of the Homeless Outreach Team, said police planned to wait 24 hours between issuing a warning and a citation. Initial plans called for only about 18 specially trained officers to issue those tickets, he said.
But now, any officer can issue the citations, and 24-hour waits are not required, said Lt. Howard Black. Lux also said warnings can be issued verbally.
“It’s been a very dynamic process,” Black said of the law’s implementation. “The goal here is not to arrest people. The goal here is voluntary compliance.”