Sep 16, 2009 8:41 PM by Andy Koen

Confronting homelessness; police try new approach

There's growing concern over the homeless camps in Colorado Springs. The campsites are much more visible, and businesses are worried that panhandlers are becoming more aggressive.

To confront the issue, the police department has created a Homeless Outreach Team. The officers of team are assigned to patrol the homeless camps on a daily basis and to try help people, when possible, to get off the streets.

In the last 60 days the team has helped 7 people make transition off the streets and into housing. Officer Brett Iverson says the team is also saving taxpayers money.

"That $65 camping ticket turns into $700 in jail time that the taxpayers pay," Iverson explains. "We send them to jail for a couple of days, they're out, they're back and we just keep moving them around."

Legally, the police can no longer simply sweep through the camps and ticket the homeless for trespassing. However, having the police presence in the camps on a regular basis has helped to lower the number of service calls for the homeless and has helped keep the sites cleaner.

Iverson adds that because it's the same team of officers who are patrolling, the campers have grown to trust them and are even helping to solve cases.

"We had a case yesterday, the lady actually called us and said, hey I know I'm on Crime Stoppers, I'd like to turn myself in, but only to one of you guys(the Homeless Outreach Team)," Iverson said.

Despite the programs success, word on the street has also spread that city has become more lenient to transients. Donald Carver came here from Albuquerque three weeks ago and decided to stay after learning of the city's policy.

"I got to talking to people and they said the city council had took and passed where if you kept your camp clean and you did it right you could live outdoors and I wanted to take advantage of that," Carver said.

Campsites like Carver's are much more visible, and the camps have extended further west into Old Colorado City. Businesses in that area are worried that having more people loitering and panhandling is driving away customers.

"They appear to be getting a little bit more aggressive," said Councilman Jerry Heimlicher who represents downtown and the west side, areas with the largest concentration of homeless.

"In my opinion, what we need to do is consider some ordinances or some laws that will help protect them and at the same time make it less attractive to camp out in these camps because there's danger in these camps."

Councilman Heimlicher has organized a community meeting with the westside merchants later this month to discuss the homeless situation. It will take place Tuesday September 29, at 7:00 p.m. at the Colorado Springs Shrine Club 6 S. 33rd Street.


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