FORT COLLINS, Colo. (CBS4)– Police in Fort Collins are seeing a drastic increase in the number of homeless in the city but not everyone agrees with how officers are handling the situation.
Police said they are responding to four times as many calls regarding the homeless as they did in May. On Wednesday, officers busted more than 50 illegal camps in city limits and issued 32 citations. They also posted warnings at dozens of other sites.
“It’s definitely a problem, it’s definitely something that has emerged this year as a focused problem,” said Fort Collins Police Deputy Chief Jerry Schiager.
Police officers are following policy put in place by the city council called “Enforcement Action” to remove and clean up campsites that typically pop up along the Poudre River, in Old Town and southern parts of Fort Collins.
Advocates for the homeless believe shutting down camps isn’t going to solve the issue.
Schiager said some people illegally camping in the city call themselves members of the Rainbow Family gathering from Utah.
In recent days up to half of the police calls that officers respond to are for panhandling, illegal camping and disturbances.
“It’s concerning, we’ve got beautiful downtown areas, our Poudre River corridor, we’ve got trails, a lot of great areas and they become trashed,” said Schiager.
David Rout is the Executive Director of Homeless Gear, a non-profit that connects people with the supplies and resources needed to find jobs and places to live.
Rout believes the enforcement action fails to address the reason campsites pop up throughout the city, “It penalizes people who are sleeping outside when in many cases there’s no other option for them.”
Rout would like to see the community focus more on finding solutions rather than penalizing people who are homeless or considered transient.
“It’s a segment of the population that often feels marginalized, often feels voiceless,” said Rout.
The 32 people ticketed yesterday for illegal camping could face a range of penalties from fines and community service to being required to meet with counselors and service providers who may be able to help.
Police said earlier this summer, the last time an enforcement action took place, one-third of the people ticketed never showed up for court.