News 5 Investigates

Jul 16, 2014 7:47 PM by Eric Ross

News 5 Investigates: Homeless at city parks making families uncomfortable

An increase in homeless people moving in at America the Beautiful Park is pushing families out.

Some people are claiming the homeless are drunk, causing disturbances, and leaving trash in the parking lots. As you can imagine, they're not happy about it.

The Colorado Springs Police Department's homeless outreach team admits homelessness is an issue in any big city. When it comes to taking them to jail or issuing tickets, police have their hands tied and also emphasize that's not always the best option for taxpayers.

Teneane Smith lets her children play at the park, but is careful and keeps a watchful eye on her kids at all times. That's because she's noticed groups of homeless people gathering in the parking lots and pavilion near the playground.

"You don't know if they are sex offenders, kidnappers, or rapists," Smith said. "You just don't know and it's scary. They lock the bathrooms so you can't use them because they wash up and then leave it messy."

Officer Brett Iverson deals with these complaints on a daily basis.

"A lot of them are taking over pavilions and just sit under the pavilion all day and it doesn't allow other people to use that," Iverson said.

Some camp in the park, while others camp in their cars.

While it may be an eyesore, police are limited with what they can do.

"It's legal to park a vehicle and stay in a vehicle as long as you're moving it every 72 hours," Iverson explained.

The 72-hour policy applies to cars parked on a city street. Parking lot rules are different.

At America the Beautiful Park, anyone can park between 5 a.m. and 11 p.m.

The lot at this park has since become home to one man we'll call Jim, who did not want us to show his face on camera. He tells News 5 he understands the concerns many people have with the homeless.

"When you look at us, most of us are dirty, we need a shower, and smell," he said. "We are usually hungry and sometimes miserable."

Jim got laid off from his job in Michigan and came to Colorado, where he obtained a low-paying job in construction. Unfortunately, that didn't cut it.

"I've never been homeless in my life up until 8 months ago," he said.

About a half-dozen homeless people were gathered at the park Wednesday afternoon.

Jim just wants others to know not every homeless person in the park is bad.

"Walk a mile in our shoes before you judge them," he said.

Some families tell us at times, there could be several dozen homeless people congregating at the park.

CSPD says that's because churches and even the soup kitchen will bring food to them, making it a breeding ground.

Homeless outreach officers are trying to get some of those people off the streets and into shelters where they can get help, but often times, police say they refuse the assistance.

Officers discourage people from giving money to the homeless. Instead, donate to a reputable charity.

While police don't have an easy way of tracking how many calls for service at America the Beautiful Park involve the homeless, they say they have responded to approximately 100 calls since March 2014.



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