Last Jan. 22, Colorado Springs City Council debated and almost enacted an ordinance to prohibit the parking of recreational vehicles on all city streets for longer than it takes to load and unload.
One area of concern was the vacant downtown block at Sierra Madre Street and Moreno
Avenue near the under-construction Olympic Museum. There are often more than a dozen RVs parked there. The city had, for months, been fielding safety, trash and sewage complaints from the businesses surrounding that block.
Local social service organizations, churches and other concerned citizens spoke against the proposed ordinance and asked for time to work with the people who depend on their RVs as their only place to live. In response, council agreed to postpone passing the ordinance until March.
To help find a practical solution, the two of us convened a working group of city officials, community providers, churches and concerned citizens. After much discussion and planning, Ecumenical Social Ministries’ Ann Steiner Lantz and Dr. Leigh Allen interviewed more than two dozen RV owners parking downtown. They discovered that 90 percent were Colorado natives and more than a third were 65 years of age or older.
While it is not ideal to have people living out of RVs, it is often their only option. One such person is a 48-year-old Colorado native we will call Freddy (he asked that his name not be published). After losing his job in the construction industry due to health issues, he now barely gets by on a disability check of just $750 a month. In a last ditch attempt to avoid homelessness, last year Freddy sold all of his furniture and bought a 1986 RV that he parks on streets in industrial areas, relocating every two days. Of course, Freddy wants a stable place to live, to be able to have running water and electricity again. But right now, he is just grateful that he is not homeless.
The RV owners who remain on the streets have no other place to go. Like Freddy, most lost a job, had rents that got too expensive or their vehicles are too old to be accepted into RV parks. The conditions many of these RV owners are living in can only be described as grim. Many of their RVs have no heat, no electricity, no running water, and are poorly insulated.
Many of these people have significant physical and mental health issues, with very limited financial resources. Some examples of the health challenges include Stage 4 chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, Stage 3 cancer, severe autism, epilepsy, and heart disease. Most will not survive on the streets if they do not have a place to park their RVs.
As promised, last March 26 council passed the RV ordinance by an 8-1 vote, although it won’t be enforced until June 1.
To help those like Freddy living out of their RVs, ESM has provided a targeted, short-term intervention including food, auto parts and repair expertise, gas vouchers, propane tanks, towing to alternate locations, and even new eyeglasses so one RV owner could see well enough to drive.
Thanks to ESM, some of those living in RVs to avoid homelessness have been able to find legal places to park or some other solution. But at least eight RV owners currently parking on public streets still need an affordable and legal place to park.
The good news is if we can raise $47,000 by late May, an RV park in District 3 (Southwest Colorado Springs represented by Councilman Richard Skorman) has agreed to provide a safe place with running water and electricity for these vulnerable citizens. These funds will enable ESM to get each of them relocated to a legal and safe place by the June 1 deadline.
In addition, ESM has agreed to provide ongoing case management services to help these individuals move toward more stable housing.
So far we have raised $5,000, so we need $42,000 more. Can you or your business, civic or faith-based organization help?
To donate, head to ESM’s GoFundMe page, gofundme.com/rv-secure-harbor-cos, or drop off a check made out to Ecumenical Social Ministries at Poor Richard’s Bookstore at 324½ N. Tejon St. One hundred percent of donations are tax deductible. Questions can be directed to Ecumenical Social Ministries at 719-636-1916.
Colorado Springs councilmembers David Geislinger and Richard Skorman can be reached at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org, respectively.