Is waterway camping ban in Colorado Springs working after one year?

City Council president says yes

Waterway camping ban in Colorado Springs begins second year

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - It was a year ago that the Colorado Springs City Council amended an ordinance against camping on public property to include banning camping within 100 feet of Fountain Creek or other waterways.

The vote was primarily to stop camping by the homeless in those areas, an activity that officials said was polluting the creek with high levels of bacteria from trash and human waste.

KRDO NewsChannel 13 asked how well the law is working, and if the water quality in the waterways is improving.

"We were just talking about that with Colorado Springs Utilities," said Richard Skorman, president of the City Council.  "There are no conclusions yet but CSU and [the] Stormwater [Department] are studying [the issue] right now, with a presentation to us soon."

Skorman said the city recently hired a consultant to conduct a yearlong study of bacterial contamination sources.

"We believe waterway camping produces some of it, but we want to know how much comes from homeless camping, how much from the 350,000 we have in the city, how much from birds and how much from septic tanks," he said.  "The consultant will test in 30 locations."

Members of the police Homeless Outreach Team, responsible for enforcing the law, were unavailable for comment Friday.  But reaction to the law's first year is mixed among others affected.

"This used to be the worst area along my bike route," said John Pressprich, as he pedaled along a trail under the Bijou Street bridge near downtown.  "I think it's much improved now.  But you still see it occasionally.  I haven't seen it in my Mountain Shadows neighborhood yet, thank goodness."

A tent under that bridge was in the same place as another tent last year, as the law took effect.

Edward Watkins said family and legal issues have made him homeless for the past year, and he shared his thoughts about the waterway camping ban.

"I used to camp along a creek sometimes," he said.  "But I stopped after police started cracking down.  If people would just keep their areas clean, there wouldn't be a problem.  We really need more options for the homeless." 

Shawna Kemppainen is executive director of Urban Peak, an advocacy group serving homeless youth up to age 24, and she doesn't like the ban.

"I think putting laws in place that restrict people from where they can be and what kind of services they can get, isn't overall helpful," she said.  "We've seen fewer youth camping along waterways, but they're not necessarily coming into shelters, so they may not immediately be getting the services they need.  They may be more spread out and harder to find."

Last week, the threat of a $2,500 fine recently led a group of people to leave a small homeless camp along a drainage channel in the city's east side Rustic Hills neighborhood.

So far, there have been no legal challenges filed to oppose the law, although a homeless advocate said last year that it would be opposed in court.

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