Colorado Springs: Another Town Struggling With Homeless Encampments

Posted: December 7, 2009 in Bureauacracy, Civil Rights, Compassion, Discrimination, Government, Homeless Shelters, Homelessness, Housing, Morality, Politics

Like many other cities across the nation, Colorado Springs, CO., has seen an increase of "tent cities" within its city limits.

And, like many other cities, Colorado Springs is trying to find a way to address the issue.

Later today, they will be considering an ordinance which would prohibit "camping" on public property.  

A report from KRDO TV-13 News gives a brief outline of what would constitute "camping" in Colorado Springs under the new ordinance:

  • Sleeping in a temporary shelter out-of-doors
  • Occupying a temporary shelter out-of-doors, such as being inside a sleeping bad or being covered by any other materials
  • The presence or use of a campfire, camp stove or other heating or cooking device or source
  • Keeping, storing or leaving personal property in a temporary shelter out-of-doors or in a sleeping or otherwise covered by any other materials

According to an article in Colorado Springs’ The Gazette, City Councilman Sean Paige said that he was open to an anti-camping ordinance, but could not support its passage without seeing a "plan of action" before hand.

The councilman said,

"I’m open to the idea of a camping ordinance, but I’m going to be looking for a more holistic plan to deal with the problem and not just displace it."

The Gazette article also points out that, although the local Salvation Army operates a shelter with 220 beds, there are "… more people than that living in tents in the Springs."

There are numerous reasons why most cities do not want homeless encampment (i.e. – tent cities) popping up.

First are the health, sanitation and safety concerns.

I have to admit that there is validity to that argument. After all, it isn’t as though those encampments have plumbing or garbage removal services. And, depending on where the camps are set up, they can potentially create harm to the environment. Furthermore, in colder climates, there is also a danger of fire if "residents" build campfires to keep warm.

Another reason that many cities do want these camps being set up – and let’s be honest about it – is because it’s an eyesore.

The fecklessness of these types of ordinances is that they offer no reasonable sleeping alternatives for their local area homeless.

I’m not sure if politicians are overly naive, or if they just lack adequate math skills. But for some reason, they adopt these types of ordinances believing that prohibiting camping in public will somehow cause the homeless to rush and take refuge at local shelters.

Yet, most cities do not have anywhere near the shelter beds available to accommodate the numbers of homeless in their areas.

In fact, based on the many news reports I’ve been reading over the last year, many shelters are turning people away for lack of beds. Consequently, those homeless who cannot get into a shelter are forced to find elsewhere to sleep; be it a doorway, behind a building, or tucking away in a tent somewhere.

It’s not as though the homeless can be expected to stay awake 24/7.

I could understand the adoption of anti-camping ordinances if there were more than enough shelter beds to go around. However, that never seems to be the case.

Let’s face it – sleep is a necessary human function. It’s something that no human being can go without. And so, passing laws which prohibit "urban camping" is basically criminalizing something which is absolutely vital to human survival.

Over the past few months, I’ve read a number of news reports from around the country about some cities that are considering allowing "city sanctioned" tent cities.

These tent cities would be overseen by local governments. They would "outfitted" with porta-potties and trash receptacles to address health and sanitation issues.

I’m of mixed feelings regarding these proposed tent cities, because I’m of the opinion that they are only a "band-aid on a gaping wound." And, I’m concerned that some cities might use them as a means to postpone putting forth the effort to help the homeless become housed.

Yet, it seems to me that if a city is going to adopt ordinances to prohibit camping in pubic – at the very least they should provide the homeless with a reasonable alternative.

And in lieu of building additional facilities to add more shelter beds, a city run tent city might prove the most cost effect (and humanitarian) way to go.

  1. sharon albertson says:

    tent citys are the most humanitarian way to go. sharon

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