Recreational vehicle owners across downtown Colorado Springs — most of them impoverished and some elderly and disabled — had two choices Friday ahead of a new streetside parking ban: Flee town or risk tickets and the impounding of their homes.
After months of delays, the ban was to take effect Saturday barring RVs from parking on Colorado Springs streets, leaving off-limits the last roadways open to RV parking in the city. They included areas such as CityGate, where a new Switchbacks soccer stadium is being developed as part of the City for Champions initiative.
As enforcement of the ordinance drew nearer, the people and families affected by it met a hard reality: No space remained at RV parks in the Pikes Peak region for their vehicles, much less at affordable rates.
The last known available RV park spot was taken Tuesday by a grandmother and her 5-year-old grandson, said Ann Lantz, executive director of Ecumenical Social Ministries.
Several people with nowhere to go planned to leave town or face tickets.
They included at least four senior RV owners — one older than 80 — who suffer a plethora of disabilities and ailments, including heart disease, lung disease and severe mental illness, Lantz said. Several others were younger and likewise had no other options.
Two more elderly women, one of them with lung cancer, found safe harbor in a church parking lot. But the arrangement was only for two weeks, in hopes that another RV park spot would open by then, she said.
“We have been to every park, every piece of land,” Lantz said. “I’ve been in some places where I don’t ever want to go again, looking for a place. We don’t have any place for folks.”
Bonnie Moody, standing next to her 1985 Ford Tioga RV, questioned the wisdom of the law. The 34-year resident has lived all but 33 of those years in houses around town. But last summer, she used her savings to buy the RV after her abusive common-law husband was sent to prison and she lost her house.
“I refused to just be walking around the streets — I wanted some kind of roof over my head,” said Moody, 58.
“I don’t understand what they’re hoping to accomplish. It’s not going to end the homeless situation in Colorado Springs. It’s just not.
“People don’t understand — it may be little, and it may be on wheels, but that’s our home.”
Colorado Springs bans RVs from parking on residential streets any longer than for “the expeditious loading and unloading of passengers or property.”
The new ordinance extends that ban citywide, eliminating RV parking downtown and in commercial and industrial areas amid concerns they’ll clog roadways and be surrounded by trash. Police said they also received complaints of wastewater being dumped onto city streets or down storm drains.
Lt. Mike Lux, who oversees the department’s Homeless Outreach Team, said 24-hour warnings will be issued before tickets are written. The first ticket would be a $25 fine; the second, $100; and the third, $125. Four tickets would draw a court summons.
The City Council gave initial approval to the ordinance in December but delayed a final vote until March, fearing that such a quick vote would exacerbate homelessness.
Even after the final vote, the council delayed the ordinance’s implementation until the beginning of June. The goal: Give RV owners and Lantz’s nonprofit even more time to find legal places to park.
The workload proved monumental, Lantz said. She hired a part-time outreach worker who contacted at least 43 RV owners. The worker took one RV owner to Lenscrafters to get eyeglasses. That person’s poor sight was all that was keeping them from getting on the road, Lantz said.
And many times, the nonprofit helped the vehicles get road worthy. Friday, for example, it helped Benton get updated license plates and found someone to try to fix his steering column.
Several people turned down the nonprofit’s help, Lantz said. But many accepted it, and as Saturday drew near, the nonprofit’s leaders could do little but issue the same warning: “Let everybody know: Out of town is the answer.” Complicating matters, most RV parks refuse access to vehicles manufactured before 2000.
“I understand the need for the ordinance,” Lantz said. “These are city streets. They aren’t made for people to live on in RVs. I get that part of it.
“The difficult part for me is that these folks who are being affected are some of the most vulnerable people in our society.”
Council President Richard Skorman, one of two council members to propose the ordinance, said concern that it would force people to flee town was a “legitimate criticism,” and he voiced optimism that they could receive a share of the rooms at Springs Rescue Mission’s upcoming Greenway Flats apartment complex when it opens in early July.
He also said he would consider bringing the matter back for the council to consider pausing its implementation, if people affected had nowhere else to go.
But Council President Pro-Tem Tom Strand, the other sponsor, defended the new law Friday as a necessary step to keep people from dumping their waste down city storm drains.
“Sooner or later, we’re going to hit a point where we can’t keep delaying enforcing this ordinance, or the ordinance is meaningless. ... We need to have big hearts, but I don’t think that we should be a ‘sanctuary’ — my word — for recreational vehicles that, quite frankly, are the only home some people have, and make an exception. Or else we’ll become a mecca for that,” Strand said.
But some people felt the council should have ensured RV owners had a place to go before imposing the ban.
“I understand the city’s position,” said the Rev. Steve Roggie of Cornerstone Family Fellowship as he doled out food to a couple of RV owners.
“But they need to come up with a solution, instead of saying it just needs to end.”
An early test came in mid-May, when several owners were ordered to move their RVs from Sierra Madre Street and Moreno Avenue in the CityGate area, so Colorado Springs Utilities crews could begin work for the Switchbacks soccer stadium. No vehicles were towed, city and police officials said. Rather, most people just moved a block down the road and out of utilities crews’ way.
That option wasn’t available Friday.
Moody received one of the two church parking lot spots, good for two weeks. Others faced uncertain futures.
His voice cracking as tears streamed down his cheeks, Earl Benton, 59, said simply: “I don’t know where I’m going.”
The registered sex offender’s options were limited. He has lived in an RV in Colorado Springs since 2015 — often panhandling on the city’s west side with his apple head chihuahua. The money he got helped him buy a generator and other equipment for his 1978 Oceanside Swinger.
His dog, Harley, died in May. And Friday, he questioned what he’d do next.
“I’ve been out of prison since 1992,” Benton said, weeping. “I’ve been doing what I’m supposed to be doing. Look at what it’s getting me.”
Michael Scheaffer, 48, said he would take his 1966 Ford RV to Ellicott, where he hoped to visit scrapyards to find parts for his rig. But El Paso County commissioners banned RVs from being parked on county roads in 2017.
Known as “Mechanic Mike,” he spent most of Friday helping other people, such as Benton, fix their vehicles so they could leave town, too.
“Sweeping us under the carpet isn’t going to fix anybody’s lives or help a thing,” Scheaffer said.
“Except for maybe take us out of the main view of everybody. But what does that say about the city?”