In recent months, the city’s center has seen a major economic boom — and planners are confident that downtown’s future is bright. With new businesses, new apartments, new hotels planned for the future, along with the Olympic Museum and Hall of Fame, the city’s heart is bursting with optimism.
And as speakers at the Downtown Partnership’s series last winter said: Economically prosperous downtowns bring homeless people.
It’s a simple fact.
And this year, there seems to be — anecdotally, anyway — an increase in a different kind of vagrant. These are younger, louder, more demanding. They want your cash and maybe some weed, not your jobs or your grocery donation.
In response, Manitou has closed Soda Springs Park’s pavilions and the city of Colorado Springs has banned sitting and lying in public.
Neither of these approaches are particularly new — and neither has been successful in other Colorado cities.
A study by the University of Denver’s Homeless Advocacy Policy Project shows that the state’s 76 largest cities have 351 ordinances against homelessness.
Using the Colorado Open Records law, the studey found that cities issue citations at a “staggering rate.” In Colorado Springs, the city has doubled the rate at which it enforces anti-homeless ordinances between 2010 and 2014. And in Boulder, the city issued 1,767 camping ban citations between 2010 and 2014, compared to the 15 issued in Denver at the same time.
And, like Colorado Springs, cities across the state don’t have enough beds. Fort Collins provides 118 shelter beds for more than 400 homeless people; Boulder provides 280 beds for 440 homeless residents.
The study argues that the ordinances aren’t just ineffective — they cost cities a lot of cash. According to the report, six Colorado cities spent at least $5 million enforcing 14 anti-homeless ordinances during a five-year period.
They also say there’s no follow-up after fines or jail — so the population of homeless and vagrants never really changes.
So ordinances don’t work, even when they’re enforced. And enforcement is expensive.
Business owners become frustrated, town councils decide to close public spaces and the rude vagrants that are causing the problem, continue to roam the streets, demanding cash from tourists and residents alike.
What does work? For chronic homelessness, Salt Lake City has solved the problem: Give them homes. For many, an address alleviates so many concerns. It gives them an address for job applications and public benefits. It keeps them warm in the winter and off the radar of law enforcement.
But that won’t solve the entire problem — because some of the most vocal panhandlers might not be homeless.
So what might work? We should invest into public spaces to make them safe and inviting for families. Work with nonprofits like Homeward Pikes Peak and the Springs Rescue Mission to assist people who need homes and jobs.
Convene town hall meetings to get the best ideas to work to end homelessness in Colorado Springs — and engage the people who business owners feel are causing the problem.
Our city is a reflection of what we think is important. We pay for what we value. So let’s value people — and show we can work together.