Wednesday, July 11, 2018

City Council passes creekside camping ban

Posted By on Wed, Jul 11, 2018 at 6:00 PM

A trash pile near the confluence of Shooks Run and Fountain Creek. - MATTHEW SCHIPER
  • Matthew Schiper
  • A trash pile near the confluence of Shooks Run and Fountain Creek.

City Council voted 6-2 to approve a creekside camping ban that's generated both outspoken support and bitter opposition since city employees introduced it in May.

The ban, targeted at the homeless camps near creeks, will 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.

It's already illegal in Colorado Springs to camp on public property, and has been 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
will presumably do away with those requirements.

Councilors Yolanda Avila and Bill Murray were the two "no" votes, with Councilor Andy Pico, who has supported the ordinance, the lone absentee.

Murray was unsatisfied with the ban, he said, because he hadn't "heard a clear explanation of how we’re going to enforce it." The actual text of the ordinance doesn't mention enforcement specifics.

Before the final vote, Councilor David Geislinger moved to amend the ordinance to delay implementation until Aug. 10. That motion failed 5-3, with Councilors Geislinger, Murray and Skorman voting in the minority.

Before that vote, Councilor Jill Gaebler emphasized other steps the city was taking to address the homeless issue, including the possibility of a "homeless court" to address infractions by those experiencing homelessness, and Mayor John Suther's alleged statement that local nonprofits will add around 300 low-barrier beds this fall.

Gaebler said one primary reason she supported the ban was trail safety, a topic that supporters of the ordinance brought up at a recent town hall.

"It is a huge issue for our community members who pay their taxes and want to be able to use their trails and open space and feel safe in those areas," she said.

Currently, the Colorado Springs Police Department's Homeless Outreach Team, along with several other designated officers, is responsible for issuing most citations for the public camping ordinance that already exists.

Lt. Michael Lux, who oversees the HOT Team, said he wasn't sure what changes the new ordinance would bring.

"I’m waiting for clarification on how they want to address this issue," he said. "It's kind of confusing for everybody right now."

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