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Jan 15, 2010 10:28 AM by Andy Koen

Homeless camp clean up

Volunteers with Keep Colorado Springs Beautiful are cleaning the homeless camps along Fountain Creek. Conditions in the camps have grown increasingly squalid lately drawing criticism from the community and city council.

The problem, says Colorado Springs Police Officer Brett Iverson, is misguided generosity by the community. An overwhelming amount of donations came during the holidays, much of which ended up in large trash piles in the camps.

"They don't have a place to store it, the food goes bad, it gets thrown away," Iverson said.

Iverson and the other members of the police department's Homeless Outreach Team regularly distribute trash bags to the camp sites, and for the most part, the campers clean up after themselves.

"They'd pretty much clean up the camp sites, and keep them fairly clean for the most part, but because of the donations that have been brought down, they can't keep up."

The area the volunteers focused on Thursday is located just off of the side of the northbound Cimarron Street on ramp to I-25. A large pile of ashes and burned piece of clothing, food and other items sat centered between a pair of abandoned tents.

Keep Colorado Springs Beautiful has cleaned the camp sites twice a month for the past 13 years. They also collect the filled trash bags that officer Iverson's HOT team distributes.

Dee Cunningham, the group's executive director, says the level of trash at today's clean up site is much greater than normal.

"This particular area is kind of unique in that it's been the recipient of so much generosity from the community you can see the end result of what happened."

Robert Jackson camps near the clean up site.  He says it became known along the creek as a distribution center, where the homeless could pick up things they might need. While he appreciates the community support from the community, Jackson agrees that the donations became too much to handle.

"This is a good thing gone bad," Jackson said. "If you really want to help somebody, go down to the camp ask them what they need and do it that way."

Rather than direct donations, Officer Iverson recommends making donations through service groups such as the Springs Rescue Mission, Ecumenical Social Ministry, and the Marion House.

He suggests calling the 211 community service hotline to get connected with the right organization.

Cunningham says she's also concerned about people who have walked into the camps simply looking to pick up trash.  She says it would be better if they volunteered with her group.

"We want to protect peoples rights, we want to protect what's in the camps, folks just may not know what is trash and what isn't."

Call the Keep Colorado Springs Beautiful offices at 577-9111 for volunteer opportunities, or visit their website, kcsb.com.

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