"We clean up what people don't want to smell, look at or know about," Allen said.
At least four times a year Allen and her volunteers clean out the city's transient camps, where as many as 20 homeless people set up house in several locations near downtown. The camps typically are nestled beneath bridges and in various nooks and crannies along Fountain Creek in south-central Colorado Springs, in the woods north of Dorchester Park south of police station downtown and beneath bridges along Cimarron Street at 21st and 8th streets. This Saturday, Allen's group will be cleaning out a transient camp along Fountain Creek just west of Cimarron Street.
The camps are in a constant state of being built by their residents and then dismantled by the Colorado Springs Police Department's Neighborhood Policing Unit.
Some feature elaborate wooden structures; others are just makeshift bivouacs of tarp and cardboard.
"They will actually get twine and rope off an area and then anyone who comes in is considered a squatter," Allen said.
The standard accumulation that grows in the transient camps can be a public health threat, and the city maintains a $45,000-a-year contract with Keep Colorado Springs Beautiful for twice monthly cleanups of transient camps and the Interstate 25 corridor through Colorado Springs.
Under the supervision of the Colorado Springs Police Department's Neighborhood Policing Unit, Allen and her bevy of volunteers -- nearly all working off court-ordered community service requirements -- clean out the camps. Clean-ups are scheduled four times a year, but typically occur more frequently.
The list of dirty laundry that they encounter can be ghastly, including plastic bags filled with feces, 40 oz. malt liquor bottles doubling as urinals, foam mattresses and clothing saturated with urine and excrement and hypodermic needles.
Last year alone, Keep Colorado Springs Beautiful volunteers collected 400 needles -- aka "sharps" -- in the course of their clean ups.
Brett Iverson, an officer with the Neighborhood Policing Unit of the Colorado Springs Police Department, described watching volunteers' first exposure to the camp's squalor.
"Once they hit the smell, they just start to retch; I've seen numerous people throw up."
In the camps, transients sometimes build toilets composed of stacked tires or paint cans. More often, officers say, the campers go to the bathroom on the ground.
When scheduling the cleanups, Iverson said, police conduct a preliminary sweep to give residents 24-hour notice to pack up their belongings and move out. "Most of them know we're serious," he said.
However, says Iverson and Allen, the majority of camp residents -- many of whom have been blackballed from local relief agencies for drunkenness and violent behavior -- are not exactly happy about being displaced.
"Honestly, most of them just want to be left alone," Iverson said.
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