Monday, June 18, 2018

Town hall shows sharp division over creekside camping ban

Posted By on Mon, Jun 18, 2018 at 10:58 AM

click to enlarge Dozens of residents packed City Council Chambers for a town hall on the proposed creekside camping ordinance. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • Dozens of residents packed City Council Chambers for a town hall on the proposed creekside camping ordinance.

Citizens on both sides of a proposed ban on creekside camping gathered June 14 at City Hall to voice their opinions before City Council.

The proposed camping ban, pushed by City Councilors Tom Strand and Merv Bennett, would specifically ban all municipal camping within 100 feet of a public stream. Violations would be punishable by a fine of up to $2,500 and/or up to 189 days in jail.

Colorado Springs has had a camping ban for years, but police currently have to give camp occupants 24-hour notice (under department policy, not city code) and ensure there’s shelter space available before dismantling camps. The new ordinance would theoretically make the ban easier to enforce by doing away with those requirements.

Supporters of the ban, who slightly outnumbered opponents speaking at the town hall, tended to focus on the issue of safety around creeks and trails, where several mentioned they had been accosted or threatened by individuals camping there. Others emphasized the need to keep waterways clean — both for health and aesthetics reasons.


"The reason people come to Colorado Springs and for tourism is generally west of the Interstate, and this is having a negative effect on our tourism industry, our mom-and-pop industry, up throughout the whole pass,

" said Welling Clark, former president of the Organization of Westside Neighbors. Clark added that the complex problem of creekside camping could not be solved without regional cooperation.


Homeless camps near stormwater infrastructure put the city's water quality at stake, said Westside resident Sharon Mullaly. "We’ve got an EPA lawsuit because of our lack of efforts to keep the storm drains clear."

Opponents of the camping ban argued that it disregards the rights of individuals forced to live outside, and ignores the root problem: the lack of affordable housing in Colorado Springs.

And it's not just campers causing the trash problem, said Aimee Cox, a former Manitou Springs city councilor.


"The dog waste in this community is prolific," she said. "And if we really want to begin to address some of the water quality issues and share this equitably, we’d say we can’t have dogs within 100 feet of the waterway either. But if you do that, that begins to impact people who are housed and they wouldn’t stand for that."


Colorado Springs resident Juliette Parker pointed out that even if the ordinance kept the people experiencing homelessness from setting up camp away from streams, it couldn't keep them from polluting the water.

"You know what they’re going to do when they need to go to the bathroom or wash their hands, all the things that you’re trying to prevent? They're going to walk 100 feet," she said.


District 2 Councilor David Geislinger ended the town hall on a note of relative optimism.


"This is an incredibly complicated issue because there are so many right sides," Geislinger said. "I think it is right to protect our waterways, to protect our environment, but it is equally right as people have said, that people who are outside, have a place to go to the bathroom, to wash their hands, and to wash their clothes. Just because one side is right doesn’t make the other side wrong, and tonight I heard a respect for that."


The creekside camping ordinance is scheduled for a first vote June 26.

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