Dozens of campers living in the "Quarry" camp southeast of downtown must leave by Dec. 11, according to a Dec. 3. statement from the city.
The camp, a large portion of which encompasses land where nonprofit Concrete Couch plans to build its new headquarters, exploded in recent months as police conducted sweeps in nearby areas, Steve Wood, Concrete Couch's director, told the Indy
The city and Colorado Springs Police Department, in partnership with local nonprofits, planned to conduct a Service Provider Outreach Day on Dec. 5 in hopes of providing campers with resources to help them find shelter and eventually exit homelessness.
While city officials and Mayor John Suthers have opposed self-governing campsites as a solution to homelessness issues, the Quarry has proliferated on private land for years. The recent move by the city is probably tied to the addition of 150 new low-barrier shelter beds at Springs Rescue Mission, which will open Dec. 10, the day before campers must leave.
"I can tell you that the private property owners have asked us to assist them in encouraging people to leave," says Lt. Michael Lux, who leads the police Homeless Outreach Team (HOT). "We were involved with this months ago, monitoring it, watching it, even though it’s not city property, it’s private property. But we had some issues with one parcel of the property that the attorneys for the city were working on contacting the owners that were not in the city. And they were working on that. So that led to us holding off and not to move forward with moving people until this time."
Many homeless people prefer to camp outdoors versus staying in shelters.
Recent publicity about the Quarry may have also served to draw further attention to the campsite, which is illegal per city zoning requirements.
Wood and his colleagues at Concrete Couch had hoped the site could serve as transitional housing for campers before the nonprofit opened its new headquarters. However, the number of campers on the site increased rapidly before Concrete Couch could close on the property, and Wood acknowledged even this summer that such a vision, which would involve imposing rules such as sobriety requirements and cleaning duties, would be difficult to see through.
At a town hall Nov. 15 to discuss the city's Homelessness Action Plan, at least one person who had lived in the Quarry was present. He and a handful of others asked city officials to allow campers to remain there legally.
"My question is why can’t the city allocate some land, a campsite, where maybe the [police Homeless Outreach Team] can come through, if your campsite is not clean you cannot be there?" asked Brandon Robbins, who called himself the Quarry's "longest-standing tenant."
"The shelter is not always for everyone," Robbins said. "It actually makes people’s anxiety worse, their mental illness worse, and you don’t get treated the right way sometimes, and so we say, 'You guys, we’re out. We’re going to go camp.' And yeah, there’s certain spots you can’t camp. Those are the people you need to take care of. But where we’re at we police ourselves in the best manner we can."
But city officials, as in the past, seemed unlikely to consider such a proposal.
Staff research shows "legal encampments that have been successful have been just as expensive, if not more expensive to run, as just adding shelter beds" due to security costs, replied Andrew Phelps, the city's homelessness prevention and response coordinator. "The reason that we’re adding shelter beds is that the services are already there. We have nonprofits in our community that are stretched thin. The case managers are stretched thin. They don’t have the time to get out to the camps, so it’s easier and it’s cheaper to just add the beds."
City Councilor Richard Skorman said he thought there "could be possibilities" for legal encampments in the future.
"Personally, I’m not opposed to small encampments that are well-managed," he said at the town hall. "I know they did this at Rocky Top [Resources] and there was 55 campsites there...It was very clean. They had their own security. They worked with the stormwater folks to build their latrines and the county took it away. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t look into that, but there is skepticism from some bad examples out there."
Lux says campers responded well to the outreach day Dec. 5. Around 30 received hepatitis A vaccinations, important in light of an increase in reported cases of the liver infection in El Paso County. Others, he says, connected with nonprofits that could help them find housing and other resources.
"I liked all the providers coming together," Lux says, "...and on the way out they said, 'Let’s do it again. If you get another large camp, this is the way to do it.' And I said, 'That’s great.' The city wants to do things the best way we can for all the citizens and this just seems reasonable.'"
While the city only requires police to give campers 24 hours notice to move, Lux noted that in this particular situation, with 100-plus campers, giving them more time was the "right thing to do."
Lux says that campers who are unwilling to move by Dec. 11 could be prosecuted for trespassing, but anticipates most will voluntarily leave.
Read the city's statement on Service Provider Outreach Day at the Quarry:
City, CSPD to Convene Service Providers Ahead of Quarry Camp Cleanup
Wednesday Morning Gathering Intended to Direct Campers to Shelters, Services
A week before the posted clean-up date for the “Quarry” camp southeast of downtown, the City of Colorado Springs, together with the Colorado Springs Police Department, have coordinated an outreach event aimed at connecting individuals experiencing homelessness with local non-profits which offer shelter, counseling, health care and mental or substance abuse assistance.
“We are fortunate in Colorado Springs to have a number of well-qualified agencies that are prepared to offer services that can make a difference,” said Andrew Phelps, homelessness outreach and prevention coordinator for the City of Colorado Springs. “I’ve said before that camping is not a safe or dignified option, nor is it a legal one. By connecting the campers at the Quarry with qualified service providers, we hope we can get people out of the elements and connect them with services that can actually set them on the path to permanent housing.”
Among the non-profits providing outreach on Wednesday are the Salvation Army and the Springs Rescue Mission, which are working together to add a combined 320 additional low barrier shelter beds. The Rescue Mission’s 150 new beds will open on December 10. The camp has been posted for cleanup on December 11.
Other non-profits participating are Aspen Pointe, Catholic Charities, Coalition for Compassion and Action, the Community Health Partnership, the El Paso County Department of Human Services, Homeward Pikes Peak, Peak Vista, RMHS Homes for All Veterans, Urban Peak and Westside Cares.
Also, in the wake of the announcement from the State Health Department, the El Paso Department of Public Health will be in attendance offering Hepatitis A vaccinations to anyone who may have been exposed to the virus, which has recently appeared in the community.