COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - A member of a Colorado Springs homeless advocacy group is circulating a petition seeking support of legalized homeless camps.
Juliette Parker, of Blackbird Outreach, is gathering signatures in person and online for the petition.
To see the petition, visit: https://www.change.org/p/give-legal-campsite-a-chance-to-prove-it-can-solve-homelessness-in-colorado-springs.
As KRDO NewsChannel 13 first reported last week, two possibilities for homeless camps have developed recently, despite resistance to the idea from many Colorado Springs-area authorities and other homeless advocates.
El Paso County officials said the owner of property where a homeless camp is located may be allowed to rezone his property and legally operate a camp there if he submits a county-approved plan for operating it.
County officials also are studying how some legal homeless camps are operated in other areas of the country, and exploring the possibility of opening a camp or series of camps.
In the past, many local leaders have said they don't believe legal homeless camps would be successful because they likely would be too large and require too many resources to keep secure, clean and safe.
But Parker said there are several examples nationally that homeless camps are effective, citing camps in San Diego and Seattle.
Last week, El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder said while he still isn't convinced a legal homeless camp is an effective solution, he's willing to consider the idea because current measures to address the growing homeless issue aren't working.
"The campers are going to have to agree that they will live within the rules necessary to create an encampment," he said. "If they're not willing to do that, then we're not willing to comply as a public safety entity."
"I've spoken with mayors across the country about it, and it just hasn't worked out," he said. "If the city sanctions a camp, the City Council will have to do it over my veto."
Even some homeless advocates, such as Beth Roalstad, of Homeward Pikes Peak, don't favor legalizing homeless camps.
"The biggest challenge with a homeless camp is transportation to and from services," she said. "Theoretically, I'm not in support of a camp. I would rather see shelters and housing."
Scott Gadd rides his bicycle past homeless camps and said he'd like for officials to try the legal camping concept and see if it works.
"If they bring port-a-potties out here, that'll solve the problem of the homeless using the creek," he said. "But someone has to come and empty the port-a-potties. From what I can see, most of the homeless clean up after themselves but no one comes to empty the trash cans."
Chasta Rogers, a homeless camp resident, said legalizing camps would be helpful to her and others like her.
"They let us have tent cities back home in Texas," she said. "We just need something to give us a chance to get back on our feet. Most of us don't want to be homeless. I like the idea because you rarely find people who truly want to help the homeless."
Parker said she wants to eventually present the petition to the City Council and county commissioners but gave no deadline for doing so.
In a related matter, Suthers said the City Council will begin considering a proposed ordinance next month to ban camping within 100 feet of a creek or other waterway, to protect waters from human waste and other contaminants.