Colorado Springs police on Monday began bulldozing the remainder of the Quarry homeless encampment southeast of downtown, even as a new federal report suggested encampments across the nation might be on the rise.
No trespassing citations were issued when city crews ended the city’s largest homeless camp in years, covering about 10 acres of private property just outside the Lowell neighborhood.
Police began clearing out the Quarry on Dec. 11, but it held off bulldozing a final parcel amid questions about its ownership. Those questions were resolved Wednesday, though, and police posted notices that day warning people to leave.
Eugene Napier, 60, says he’s been homeless off and on since 1998 but will ignore officials’ requests to visit a shelter, opting instead to camp elsewhere in the city. He was waiting for a relative to bring a car to transport his belongings.
“That’s the sad thing. I don’t know where I’m going,” he said.
The cleanup came as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reported that homelessness across the nation increased 0.3 percent to 552,800 people, up by about 2,000 from 2017. It was the second consecutive increase after seven straight years of declines.
The nationwide increase was driven by a 2 percent rise in the unsheltered population — people living in vehicles, tents and on the streets — along with 4,000 people in emergency shelters after hurricanes, wildfires and other disasters, according to HUD. Numbers of homeless veterans and families continued their long-term declines.
At a time when rents are rising faster than wages — especially for low-income people — an essentially stagnant count is a not a bad sign, said Steve Berg, vice president for programs and policy at the National Alliance to End Homelessness.
“Given what’s going on with rental housing, it’s not exactly good news. But it means communities are pushing back against the headwinds,” said Berg, who like other advocates urges caution about reading too much into one-year trends.
Results of the same survey in El Paso County, released this year, showed the area hitting a 10-year high. The count, conducted in January, found 1,551 homeless people here, including 513 who were on the streets or in camps.
Across Colorado, the count of homeless people dropped 0.8 percent, to 10,857.
The federal report also offered a glimmer of hope, saying some cities along the West Coast have succeeded in addressing exploding homeless populations.
Los Angeles and San Diego saw those populations decrease as they planned to spend big on affordable housing and other steps.
Last year, for instance, Los Angeles voters approved $1.2 billion to build 10,000 units of affordable housing over a decade. Officials there also ramped up outreach efforts to connect homeless people with services.
This year’s January count found nearly 50,000 homeless people in L.A., with three-quarters of them unsheltered, both numbers down from 2017.
San Diego, California’s second-biggest city, also saw a decline in homelessness and those on the streets. After a hepatitis A outbreak spread among the homeless population and killed 20 people in 2017, the city turned to industrial-sized tents to house hundreds. As the tents went up, officials also cited people camping on downtown streets. Encampments downtown cleared out quickly, but the number along the San Diego River doubled.
The city is considering a ballot measure to raise money for affordable housing in 2020.
Homelessness has exploded along with a soaring economy in several West Coast cities in recent years and has become a top local political issue. From 2015 through last year, voters on the West Coast approved more than $8 billion in spending — most of it in tax increases — to address homelessness.
In Seattle, which has the nation’s largest homeless population outside New York or Los Angeles, the count this year rose to more than 12,000 — more than half of them unsheltered. The number was fewer than 9,000 just four years ago, and the city has been wrestling with what to do.
The City Council in May passed a $48 million tax on businesses to raise money for affordable housing. But under pressure from Amazon, Starbucks and other companies, it repealed the tax the next month.
HUD Secretary Ben Carson said Monday that no one should be declaring victory over homelessness despite decreases in certain cities.
“We still have a long way to go even though there’s been significant progress,” he said.