A large homeless camp within sight of the Colorado Springs Police Department headquarters in the south downtown Lowell neighborhood will be cleared out by Monday after the city received landowners’ permission to remove tents and residents.
The 10-acre encampment, known as “the quarry,” is home to at least 145 tents and tarp-covered shelters on private land near Wahstach Avenue and Fountain Boulevard.
“We’re looking for absolute voluntary compliance,” police spokesman Lt. Howard Black said Wednesday. “We’d like to see them leave the camp without (police) having to be involved at all.”
Those who choose to stay will be cited for trespassing, but police “hope they don’t get to that point,” Black said.
The city moved dumpsters to the property Saturday and held an outreach day Wednesday at the camp with representatives of 20 local organizations on hand to explain what alternatives and services are available. AspenPointe, Catholic Charities, the El Paso County Department of Human Services, Westside Cares, Peak Vista and Homeward Pikes Peak were among those with booths set up.
The message was clear: camping in the field is illegal, people need to leave, but there are transitional services on-hand as well as empty shelter beds at Springs Rescue Mission and the Salvation Army.
“We do have available shelter,” said the city’s homelessness outreach and prevention coordinator Andy Phelps. “I do hear from people experiencing homelessness that they don’t feel safe, but I do feel it is safer than being outside in Colorado in the winter. People are dying in the cold, so we need to get people inside where it is warm and safe.”
Phelps hopes the city and its partners can coordinate more outreach days, which also offered those in the camp coffee, donuts and vaccines.
For some in the camp, the eviction is just the latest in a series of losses that left them living on the streets. One man living in the camp with his wife and dog who asked that his last name not be used has a long list of potential apartments he could apply for, though he’s not optimistic any will accept him.
“I’m going to get out as soon as possible, but I don’t have anywhere to go,” Leroy said. “The community looks at us like you ain’t nothing, and it’s hard.”
Leroy lost his house a year ago. He is on disability because of a leg injury, so finding jobs that don’t require him to stand all day is difficult.
“I’m not homeless by choice,” he said. “When this nightmare hit, we lost everything.”
One man who asked not to be named said he “had no idea where he’d go.”
Several of the people in the camp previously told The Gazette they preferred the independence and camaraderie they found at the quarry to the shelters, where married couples and partners must sleep separately and, they claim, put them at risk of catching diseases. There have been no documented outbreaks of diseases at any of the city’s shelters, officials said.
Beth Roalstad, the director of Homeway Pikes Peak, said Colorado Springs’ severe shortage of affordable housing is at the heart of the problem. Clearing camps, such as the quarry, leaves people who are unwilling to go to shelters with few options, she said.
“We need to be doing everything we can to create more affordable housing and look at creative solutions,” said Roalstad. “Other cities have converted commercial space into transitional housing. Another idea is to make a tiny home community with rent-to-own plan where the person can build equity and enter come ownership.”
She continued, “I’d love to see the community have the guts and a service provider take on a project like that.”
Another option is a city- or county-sanctioned camp, though Roalstad does not see the political will to make that happen.
“We’re looking for absolute voluntary compliance. We’d like to see them leave the camp without (police) having to be involved at all.” Colorado Springs police spokesman Lt. Howard Black