Trash. Campfires. Tents. RVs. The homeless have found refuge along Shelf Road and other byways near Cripple Creek.
“I have filed a complaint with the Sheriff’s Office about the transients on Shelf Road,” said Michelle Rozell, speaking in May. “At least one transient has sealed off a small plot with barbed wire.”
Fire danger is a concern, said city administrator Mark Campbell. “The road is in a steep valley and our guys wouldn’t be able to respond.”
Campbell recalled the High Chateau Fire, started by a campfire, that destroyed 1,400 acres and nine homes last summer.
Cripple Creek Fire Chief Dean O’Nale is concerned for his firefighters. “Shelf Road is hard to get to on a good day,” he said.
Teller County Commander Greg Couch pointed to the complicated nature of handling issues that affect people who have lost their homes or been homeless for years. “They are on private land, not on land owned by the Bureau of Land Management or the national forest,” he said.
At the end of May, there were four trailers and two vehicles parked on private property along Shelf Road. A landowner has proposed that the transients help clean up a now-cluttered two-mile stretch along the road. The sheriff’s office, along with the landowner, is taking a compassionate approach to the issue, Couch said. “We’ve got to try a community-based solution,” he said.
Last week, there appeared to be such a solution. “The Sheriff’s Office took a unique approach to homeless camps today with its partnership with nonprofit Focus on the Forest and affected land-owners,” Couch stated in a press release.
There are also homeless people camping along Rampart Range and Gold Camp roads. Rather than issuing tickets for posing dangers to the community through open fires and piles of trash, the sheriff’s office is taking a slightly different approach to the problem, Couch said.
“We acknowledge and empathize with folks who find themselves in circumstances which may be beyond their control in securing a place to live. We also understand that we have discretion as law enforcement officers and can approach the issue from a compassionate, community-based perspective,” he said.
Over the past several weeks, the sheriff’s office met with landowners including Newmont Mining Corp. and Ryan Blevins, who own property affected by trash pileup.
“Mr. Blevins proposed a community-based solution that hinged on a few stipulations. The homeless campers were advised of Teller County’s recently passed camping ordinance, given time to find another dedicated campsite, and supplied with trash bags from Focus on the Forest to pick up their area,” Couch states. “In exchange for the extra warning time and consideration, the campers agreed to help with the cleanup.”
The sheriff’s office assigned a deputy to a “homeless liaison position” in order to direct those in need to public assistance resources and ensure compliance with local ordinances.
“TCSO plans to build upon its relationship with Focus on the Forest and will continue to offer balanced responses to the unfortunate homeless issues in the county,” Couch said. “TCSO plans to build upon its relationship with Focus on the Forest and will continue to offer balanced responses to the unfortunate homeless issues in the county.”
To volunteer with Focus on the Forest, contact Shawn Nielsen at 648-1557.