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Environment

Loveland Asks Residents To Stop Cleaning Up Homeless Encampments

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Courtesy of Blake Letzring
Volunteers with the Loveland Volunteer Litter Control group pose for a photo after a recent cleanup.

The city of Loveland is recommending residents not participate in some community-organized cleanups of homeless encampments due to safety concerns — even as participants involved in the effort say they’re taking appropriate precautions.

In a notice posted on its website this week, the city said the cleanups can expose well-meaning volunteers to hazardous waste such as used needles, razor blades and, in some cases, “potentially aggressive occupants.”

“Of particular concern is the presence of young children at the volunteer worksites,” the city’s statement said. “In addition to health and safety risks, potential legal ramifications may arise for removal of personal property from encampments.”

Blake Letzring, a resident who works at a local water treatment plant, started the “Loveland Volunteer Litter Control” Facebook group last month. He said he got the idea after seeing pictures on social media of a campsite near a shuttered Hobby Lobby.

Letzring and few other frustrated online commenters decided to team up and clean the campsite themselves. They finished the job in a couple hours.

“It was kind of spur of the moment,” Letzring said.

In the following weeks, he led two more cleanups, chronicling his group’s progress online. Then came the city’s recommendation on March 7 not to participate.

Letzring said it shocked him.

“The community is noticing the city is not keeping up with this,” he said. “We just want to clean up the area and I sure think that would be beneficial to the homeless people as well because I know the public opinion (about them) is less than positive.”

Letzring added that he and another member of the group have experience handling hazardous waste. They also haven’t come across a large amount of the materials the city pointed out as dangerous, he said.

Around 120 people live in cars or temporary campsites in Loveland, according to the city’s most recent point-in-time homeless count. City staff have also been researching ways to expand services to residents experiencing homelessness.

The city paid an Arvada-based company about $32,000 to clean up homeless encampments last year. Crews cleaned 50 encampments, mostly in parks and along riverbanks, said Tom Hacker, a city spokesman.

“I’m not sure it’s a growing issue, but it is an issue in our community,” Hacker said.

Hacker said the city-led cleanup efforts typically involve coordination between several departments, including the Loveland Police Department. In these cases, occupants of tents are typically given several days notice before a cleanup.

“We’re very happy to have people in this community volunteering to help keep parks clean,” he said. “The thing we’re concerned about are these encampments. They can be unsafe.”

City staff met with members of the litter control group on Thursday to work out a path forward. Hacker said the city can’t force residents to stop cleaning up sites, but will continue to urge caution.

Letzring said he plans to keep cleaning up his community as long as there’s a need.

“Wherever people are speaking to the loudest is where we’ll deploy our resources,” he said. “The encampments are what need the most help from our group, so I do anticipate working around those sites in the future.”