COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - (WEDNESDAY, JULY 11)
Legal challenges are already being planned for the new waterway camping ban in Colorado Springs, a day after it received final approval from the City Council.
Previously, the American Civil Liberties Union went to court to stop the city from enacting similar ordinances that the ACLU believed violated human rights or unfairly targeted the homeless.
The threat of legal action by the ACLU forced the city to change or rescind similar ordinances in the past.
In a statement released Wednesday, John Krieger, a spokesman for the ACLU of Colorado, said the organization doesn't "speculate on lawsuits that are not yet filed."
However, Krieger said while the ACLU understands the city's health concerns, authorities shouldn't make sleeping in certain places illegal, "especially when there are no viable alternatives."
"The city needs to focus its resources on addressing the crisis of homelessness, not criminalizing the existence of people who are homeless," he said.
City officials support the ban because of high levels of bacteria in Fountain Creek that are believed to be partly caused by homeless people living along the creek.
Juliette Parker, a local homeless advocate, said other efforts to challenge the ban are underway.
"We were prepared for the fact that this was going to pass, and people have been working on the legal challenge for a while," she said.
But City Council President Richard Skorman said the ban will withstand any legal challenge because it was adopted with public health and safety in mind.
"Fort Collins has done it, it's been unchallenged up there," he said. "Boise, Idaho, and many other cities have done it. Many communities restrict access to their waterways or drainage projects because they don't want people endangered if there's flash flooding. We want to protect our water quality because we're already being sued by the EPA over it."
Many homeless camps have been operating just outside the city limits, in El Paso County.
"We'd like to see the county adopt a similar ordinance because it's hard to tell whether the bacteria is coming from city camps or county camps," Skorman said.
But Stan Vander Werf, an El Paso County Commissioner, said there's no need for a similar county ordinance because existing ordinances are already effective.
"We want to wait and see how the city's ban works out," he said. "We want to see if it can hold up in court and how well it can be enforced."
Skorman said part of the ban includes establishing a "homeless court" at the Springs Rescue Mission to handle violations, assigning more officers to the police Homeless Outreach Team and doubling the number of shelter beds.
"Doubling the number of beds, and making them low-barrier, or easier to enter, will give the homeless more options and make it easier to enforce the ban," he said.
(TUESDAY, JULY 10)
The Colorado Springs City Council gave final approval Tuesday to ban camping within 100 feet of creeks and other waterways inside the city limits.
The goal of the new ordinance, which passed by a vote of 6-2, is to curb the number of homeless people who set up camps near waterways like Fountain Creek. Officials cited high levels of E. Coli in the watershed as another reason for the ban, though no proof was ever presented that those levels were caused by homeless camps.
"But we believe a lot of it is," said City Council President Richard Skorman. "The trash, the garbage, the human waste produced by these camps. We're trying to place more trash receptacles and portable bathrooms in those areas."
(PHOTOS -> Homeless camp near Fountain Creek)
The ordinance will go into effect July 23. Violators face fines up to $2,500 and up to 180 days in jail.
Previous Story (By Colleen Sikora)
For years people experiencing homelessness have camped along streams and creeks in Colorado Springs for years.
But now, Colorado Springs City Council is considering a ban on camping within 100 feet of waterways, citing high levels of E. Coli in Fountain Creek watershed.
Dozens packed a town hall to debate the ordinance Thursday night, where comments were mixed.
"There are so many aggressive homeless people living on the creek that I now feel my safety is in jeopardy," Kimberly Bloomer said.
"If we are going to address the issue of homelessness, then our attention should be paid on services and affordable housing," Beth Roalstad said.
The meeting was for the city council to get an idea where the public stood on the issue.
"We have to figure out how to get our arms around the whole issue. This might be one solution, one step, but certainly not the only one," City Council President Richard Skorman said.
Council is expected to take formal action on the proposed ordinance in two weeks.