October 23, 2012
If you are moved to prayer you might consider saying one for Steven Wood.
Wood’s 15 minutes of fame, if you want to call it that, came in July when he became the first homeless person to receive a summons for allegedly violating the Colorado Springs ban on camping on public property. He pleaded not guilty to the charge in municipal court Aug. 7 and was to return to court Aug. 21.
But Wood, 52, never made it. Sometime after his arraignment he died, so the case was dismissed.
Since the no-camping ordinance was approved by the City Council in 2010, Wood is the only homeless person to receive a summons. He was arrested and transported to the county jail July 17 because there was another outstanding misdemeanor warrant issued for him.
At the time of his arrest, Wood had received a written warning from the Homeless Outreach Team, officers from the Colorado Springs Police Department who know the homeless population well. Wood declined the officers’ suggestions for temporary housing and he reportedly became confrontational that day.
We can’t know for sure, but the county jail may well have been the last time Wood had a roof over his head.
Contacted early Tuesday, HOT team member Officer M.J. Thomson, who wrote the summons for Wood, said foul play was not suspected in Wood’s death, but “I don’t know specifics.”
Later in the morning Thomson called back, saying there could be no official comment about cause of death because “it’s an open investigation.”
What we do know is at the time of Wood’s arrest, CSPD decided to make a point of it, issuing a news release and his picture — unusual attention in a misdemeanor case. The photo showed the scraggly-haired Wood with a black patch over one eye, looking like an extra from a pirate movie.
It appeared that the city was trying to make Wood the poster child for homelessness in Colorado Springs. He looked dangerous, but we now know he was on his last legs.
A photo of a 52-year-old homeless woman would not have conveyed the same kind of threat, would it?
The truth is that despite their rough exteriors, most homeless people are harmless. Efforts to scare the public do a disservice to us all, and the real value of the no-camping ordinance is dubious, indeed.
The effect of the law has been cosmetic, dispersing the once-visible camps but doing little to address homelessness itself. Hundreds of homeless people still wander our streets.
The camping ban didn’t make us safer and didn’t help Steven Wood, who very possibly was beyond our help. But the law made him less visible so we could feel better.
Listen to Barry Noreen on KRDO NewsRadio 105.5 FM and 1240 AM at 6:35 a.m. on Fridays and follow him on Facebook and Twitter. Contact him at 719-235-6200 or firstname.lastname@example.org