March 24, 2010
Since enforcement of the city’s new no-camping ordinance began March 11, Colorado Springs police have not had to issue tickets or send any of the area’s hundreds of homeless campers to jail.
“I think we’ve had nine written warnings, but we’ve been able to place everyone into some kind of program or housing situation,” HOT Officer Dan McCormack said Tuesday.
Although critics worried the law would punish people for being homeless, police have said it was never their intent to push the campers into the judicial system. Officers with the police department’s Homeless Outreach Team said their aim was to get the people into shelters, substance abuse programs or any place that would move them off the streets and on the road to self-sufficiency.
Police have been focusing on one camp at a time, issuing written warnings that include a referral to an agency or shelter. If a person is still camping on public property 48 hours later, HOT officers can issue a summons and eventually take him to jail.
But McCormack said most campers have been willing to take advantage of any number of programs, including one that pays for a motel room using a $100,000 grant from the El Pomar Foundation to Homeward Pikes Peak. Those who use the grant money are required to go into case management and look for jobs.
“I think everybody sees a lot of good stuff going on, and that we’re not trying to bust them or anything,” McCormack said.
High-profile camps close to downtown and the west side have been cleaned out and cleaned up, including those at America the Beautiful Park from Colorado Avenue to Cimarron Street. Police still have camps south of downtown to get to, McCormack said.
Most of the campers have moved to the Express Inn at Cimarron and Eighth streets. According to Karl McLaughlin, who started as a volunteer advocate for the homeless and now works for Homeward Pikes Peak, 127 adults had been placed at the Express Inn as of Tuesday, and 25 more were staying at other locations.
Sixty-four left town on a bus, most of them through a Salvation Army program that paid for a ticket as long as the person had a verifiable place to stay or program to enter at his destination. The organization used a $5,000 El Pomar grant to buy the tickets, but the money ran out about a week ago, said Salvation Army business manager Bill Sisterson. Homeward Pikes Peak is now buying tickets.
It’s still unclear what will happen to people being housed under the El Pomar grant when that money runs out, but McCormack noted that about one-third have found jobs.
“If that trend continues, a lot will become self-sufficient,” McCormack said.
McLaughlin said some are now making enough money to reimburse Homeward Pikes Peak, which will recycle the funds to pay for more rooms.
HELPING THE HOMELESS
Officials estimate that Colorado Springs had about 325 tent campers at the beginning of the year. Since mid-February:
• 127 adults have been placed at the Express Inn. Thirteen children have been able to join their parents there.
• 17 adults and 4 children have been placed at three other area motels
• 8 adults have been placed at west side bungalows
• 8 adults and 6 children have moved out of the motels and into apartments
• 55 have found jobs
• 64 adults have left town on a bus
• 54 adults have been kicked out of the Express Inn and other motels because of rules infractions