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Tensions flare over Loveland encampment ban at town hall meeting

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Rob MacDonald
/
City of Loveland

More than 200 people packed into the Rialto Theater in Loveland last month to voice their thoughts on the city’s proposed transitional shelter site at South Railroad Avenue. The site is the latest development in the city’s efforts to enforce its camping ban passed in May.

Before opening the floor, city staff presented an overview and an update of the encampment ban to date. Staff then took questions and listened to comments ranging from anger at the city’s mismanagement of encampment sites to disappointment in fellow residents for disregarding their unhoused neighbors.

Why is this happening?

On May 17, the Loveland City Council voted eight to one to adopt an emergency ordinance banning unauthorized encampments. The council also approved $500,000 to implement the plan.

City manager Steve Adams said the emergency ordinance was passed to improve public safety, minimize damage to public property and mitigate fire risk.

In order to enforce the ordinance, the city must offer overnight shelter and temporary storage for personal items. Loveland did not have adequate year-round shelter space or storage before passing the ban.

How big is the city’s homeless population?

Unauthorized encampment sites have grown in the two and half years since the pandemic began. Following the “leave in place” guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention early in the pandemic, Loveland began routine clean-ups and monitoring of homeless encampments.

Alison Hade, an administrator with the city’s community partnership office, said a January census of the unsheltered population found 169 people. That’s a 27% increase in the unsheltered population compared to 2019.

“We believe that a lot of people have come here because they could camp,” Hade said. “We also believe that once people are unable to camp, that they will likely move on.”

This summer the city began relocating people staying in unauthorized encampments to motel rooms and existing shelter spaces. These folks are put on notice and given the option to relocate to temporary shelter. If they decline and refuse to leave, they could receive citations and possible arrest.

So far, the focus has been on moving people out of King’s Crossing, located at Big Thompson River and Highway 287 on the east side of the city. As of Aug. 15, the city had relocated 31 people.

Where to put the temporary shelter

Brett Limbaugh, director of development for the city of Loveland, said the city looked for a site with zoning that allowed residential uses and that wouldn't have to be remediated or cleared, somewhere with room to grow depending on the demand and access to services like public transit.

City officials identified the South Railroad Avenue site and are awaiting approval for a temporary use permit. If approved, the city would have up to two years to operate the temporary shelter.

According to Mark Jackson, Loveland public works director, the site will have 16-foot by 16-foot tents — the kind used by FEMA after floods and tornadoes. It will also house modular containers where people can access services, as well as portable restrooms and shower units. People will be allowed to stay for as long as they like.

Increased law enforcement could be on its way

Alison Hade, administrator with the city’s community partnership office, said the site will have security cameras, guards and will be surrounded by fencing. There’s a long list of infractions and consequences, including a prohibition on alcohol and drugs on site, according to Hade.

“What we’re trying to do is get people to behave well. That’s our primary goal. We know that doesn’t always happen, so people will be removed from the property and we’ll contact law enforcement when it’s appropriate,” Hade said.

Sergeant Garret Osilka added that pending the 2023 budget, the plan is to hire multiple officers to join law enforcement’s homeless response team. Right now, he’s the only officer clearing the encampment sites.

‘They need to get services’

Many Loveland residents were angry. Some accused city officials of making residents pay for something they don’t want.

“The city caused this problem by actively ignoring what went down at Kings crossing. They knew what they were doing … This will balloon into a giant homeless vagrancy bureaucratic solution with an ever-expanding budget with an ever expanding-problem,” said Christopher Say.

Others pushed back on the rhetoric used to talk about those experiencing homelessness.

“As long as you use the word blight and homeless and drug addicts and whatever, they are never gonna get the dignity or the respect that they deserve. They are human beings, for Christ's sake,” said Olivia Lowe.

Chuck Hubbard,, suggested that there might be a better location away from downtown, though he supported connecting people experiencing homelessness to services.

“We have some really good people who are living in those encampments. They need to get services,” Hubbard said.

A few people echoed the notion of two types of people experiencing homelessness — the deserving and undeserving of support.

“There are two camps of homeless people I see,” said Sarah Warnock. “People that want help and are struggling and others that are so drug addicted and alcoholed out they have no idea what's going on … If they refuse to go to the shelter — can we get them out of town?”

Judges have already answered that question. In the landmark Martin v. Boise case and similar cases in Fort Collins and Denver judges ruled that you cannot punish someone for sleeping outside on public property in the absence of adequate alternatives. To do so would violate the eighth amendment prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.

Ultimately some residents were left wondering if the comments made during the town hall would have any bearing on the council’s actions at all.

“I've been to several other town hall meetings. All these meetings have gone on deaf ears with the city council,” said Michael Douglas. “They just continue to do whatever they want, and they're not listening to what the people in the community are telling them.”

I’m a reporting fellow visiting from National Public Radio. I work on newscast, covering breaking news and important stories affecting communities in the Front Range.