Updated: April 6, 2010 at 12:00 am
El Paso County commissioners unanimously approved a no-camping regulation Tuesday aimed at eliminating homeless campers who may be migrating from Colorado Springs onto county property.
Speaking in support of the measure were homeless advocates and businessmen who say a similar city measure that went into effect March 11 has helped encourage scores of homeless individuals to abandon their makeshift camps and get housing and jobs.
“Now we have a uniform set of laws that govern camping,” Bob Holmes, executive director of Homeward Pikes Peak, a coordinating agency for homeless services in the Pikes Peak region, said in a telephone interview.
“It will be easier for police enforcement. Even better, it will be less complicated for the campers because they won’t be dealing with two sets of laws,” he added.
The county’s new regulation prohibits the erection of “living accommodations” on county property. The measure will go into effect June 1, so law enforcement officials will have time to give campers verbal warnings before the regulation goes into effect. Homeless campers who violate the new county regulation could face a fine of up to $750 and six months in jail.
But Sheriff Terry Maketa said he hopes that his deputies won’t have to issue summons. He told commissioners there is evidence that campers are moving south along the county’s trail system, and have also been reported on the west side.
With the help of a $100,000 grant from El Pomar Foundation, Homeward Pikes Peak has reached out to 355 people, Holmes said. “Right now, we have 174 people in motels who had been tent campers.”
The organization also found motel rooms for an additional 22 people who got jobs and moved away, helped 72 people reconnect with families who then left town, and got 13 people into substance abuse programs.
Through the agency’s efforts, 63 people have found jobs and another 26 people are waiting for jobs that have been promised to them. “In this economy, that’s phenomenal,” said Robert L. Maez, a member of the Avenue Merchants, a nonprofit that’s working to redevelop the area between 31st Street and Manitou Springs and has worked closely with homeless advocates.
Holmes estimates that his agency has spent about $300 on each homeless person that it’s helped. “That’s outrageously inexpensive,” he said. “ We’ve accomplished the best thing you can do for human beings. We’ve moved them from a state of despair to a state of hope,” he added.
Maez said many homeless people decided to take advantage of the programs being offered when they learned the city was about to enact a no-camping ordinance. “It was a nudge,” he said of the city law.
Holmes said there were about 550 to 600 homeless campers in the Colorado Springs area. “At the end of the day, there will probably be 125 campers who will refuse any and all services offered.” The holdouts, he said, consist mainly of people with what he called “profound substance abuse problems.”
He said the organization hopes to continue its efforts through funds and grants from the city and county, as well as faith-based organizations and other foundations.
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