Business owners agree with council ban

Downtown business owners seem united in their agreement that something needed to be done about homeless camps on Monument Creek.

Colorado Springs City Council passed an ordinance last night that outlawed the camps, and police will begin issuing tickets for people who remain. The vote passed after hours of discussion, with only Councilman Tom Gallagher voting against the measure.

About 300 to 500 people live in the camps along the creek, easily visible from Interstate 25, and within walking distance of downtown businesses.

“These are hard times, and the people are down on their luck,” said Kathy Guadagnoli, owner of Rum Bay, Blondie’s, Gasoline Alley and Cowboys nightclubs, all on Tejon Street. “And if you can get them into shelters, into beds, then that’s a much better solution.”

Business owners say the homeless problem has escalated, with shoppers complaining about over-aggressive panhandling and drunken, disorderly behavior by the homeless.

“You know, some of the people are really in dire straits,” Guadagnoli said. “And they want to be helped, need to be helped. But some of them – a handful – really like the lifestyle. They panhandle, make $250 a day. And they don’t want to change, to get a job.”

Business owners are sympathetic to the plight of people whose economic circumstances leave them without shelter – and they agree that new shelters should be created. But, they say, the problem often means new shoppers won’t come downtown.

“There are great things going on downtown,” said Jerry Rutledge, owner of Rutledge’s, a menswear shop. “In this block alone, we have three new stores. And I love downtown – but the problem is really out of control.”

Rutledge said he recently had to call police after two female shoppers complained about aggressive panhandling.

“I think the ban on the camps is a great idea,” he said. “You have to do something. I just hope they go through with it. There are a few wafflers on city council.”

Marty Taylor, who owns Tayco Screen Printing and Embroidery near the Springs Rescue Mission on Tejon Street, also has mixed feelings about the issue.

“It’s such a volatile situation,” he said. “We will have to wait and see. We’ve been here for 20 years.”

The Springs Rescue Mission doesn’t allow alcohol or drugs inside, and it offers a religious program to people who use the shelter. That, Taylor said, “separated the sheep from the goats.”

He is unsure that the new ban will have any impact on the camps.

“Where will they go, if pressured?” he asked. “I can’t imagine the scene, it’s just dismal.”

He did have a suggestion. At South Nevada Avenue and Las Vegas Street, an abandoned RV camp could serve as temporary camping facilities for the 300 to 500 homeless who currently live along Monument Creek. The facility is away from the busy downtown corridor.

“I am not sure a new shelter would solve the problem,” he said. “I normally speak to them. This fall, I gave 300 shirts and jackets to some of the camp leaders. If I put out the word I’m a good guy, it keeps them from bothering businesses. But a lot of them, they don’t want hard-wall shelters.”

All the business owners say the problem has escalated along with the economic recession, the worst since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

“Downtown has become a bit of a dumping ground,” Taylor said. “No other part of the city bears the load like downtown. Everybody else just lives elsewhere and talks around the problem – they go to church, feel good about themselves. It’s all dumped on downtown’s plate. I bet if all these people were at the Chapel Hills mall, they’d be bounced out a lot sooner.”

Luke Travins, owner of Concept Restaurants, said city council made the right decision.

“I think there are enough shelters, beds, transitional housing and general resources to take on this burden,” he said. “There are a lot of people helping folks get back into a housed situation.”

Travins echoed other business owners: aggressive panhandling keeps people out of his restaurants – Jose Muldoon’s, the Ritz and MacKenzie’s Chop House – at night. And, he said, people have told him the problem is worse because of bans on camping in Denver and Boulder.

“We’ve become an attraction,” he said. “People come here because we haven’t enforced the no-camping ban. When they started enforcing it in Boulder, people put up signs saying they could come to Colorado Springs, camp and be within a five minute walk of a soup kitchen.”

Becky Hurley contributed to this story.

  • Calvin Newton

    I also see the camps along the creek. It really up sets me to see nearly 500 people with many childern sleeping out side in the winter when it is 10 degrees below zero. Are these people receiving some kind of assistance like wellfare? What about food stamps? How many of these people have Cell Phones? If they are getting some assistance maybe several could go together and rent a house. We certainly have enough vacant houses with all of the foreclosuers in El Paso county. I did like the sigh that said WELCOME TO OBAMAVILLE. Hey if I can make 250 dollars a day panhandleing maybe we should all go out and panhandle. That is 1,000 dollars per week and only a 5 day work week, 52,000 dallars per year, Tax free. I like that.

  • Margaret

    I have a strong interest in this topic. I am 56, have a debilitating issue, and find that my husband and myself are going to go houseless because of job loss. Unemployment has been a big help, but all of our savings are gone now. I don’t have a clue where we will be going, it is obvious that as a member of the community with our own home we had value to society… and now we do not. We have to be somewhere we can walk to and from what we need access to. Where do you suggest we go. Shelter is not an option for us as I have a companion dog, and will not be separated from husband or dog. Don’t drink, smoke, or even cuss much, but find that I am ready to check out rather than face March in the streets.

  • Amy Gillentine

    Please call 2-1-1. That’s El Paso County’s one-stop hotline for emergency situation like yours. They can direct you to the right groups, such as Homeward Pikes Peak or the Springs Rescue Mission.

  • Andrew

    I’d like to thank Margaret for sharing her story. I think more people need to be reminded that no matter where you happen to see someone along their path of poverty, they never willingly choose that road.

    As for Calvin, you’re neglecting to say one thing about going out and begging for $52K per year: you won’t do it. Don’t pretend that people that find themselves depending on the kindness of others don’t do so at a tremendous cost. Besides living on the streets, often addicted to drugs and alcohol, people in that situation have also given up their fundamental human dignity. If your dignity is for sale at $52K per year, you might actually be surprised at how many opportunities there are to sell it.

    Also, if I can assume from your post that you are clearly not the type of person who gives money to the homeless, I don’t see what business it is of yours who the rest of us decide to give ours to. As someone who’s never had the misfortune of having to ask friends, family, or even worse, strangers, for help feeding my family, I’ve also felt a tremendous sense of responsibility, self-accountability, and even pride. I’ll give a President credit or blame for having a broad stroke impact on the country, but nobody gets credit or blame for my personal situation but me, period.

    It does seem like you’d be interested in seeing a solution for these people, which I appreciate. All that I ask is that people that read this remember that for every person they see camping by a creek, there is a Margaret that never expected to end up there. For every child you see sitting by the side of the road, there is most likely a parent that cries themselves to sleep at night. If you want to harp on a society that gives too willingly to people that are sometimes all to ready to take, please take it a little easier on the folks that might still have a little too much pride to take a handout from a shelter.

    If you lost your job tomorrow and couldn’t find another in enough time, would you tell your kids you’re going on a camping adventure, or tell them you’re no longer able to afford to even have children and go to a homeless shelter? My guess is that the problem isn’t bringing yourself to tell your kids the truth, but rather telling it to yourself.

    Don’t check out Margaret. We need you here. This country is going to turn the corner on the grit and gristle of the true American spirit. There will always be people that need to feel like they’re better than someone else, which means that we need the people who’re better than they are all the more.