By Jamie Leary
FORT COLLINS, Colo. (CBS4) – For the last few years Pastor Steve Ramer has been thinking about the big and little things he can do to help his neighbors. He’s not just talking about the homes next door.
Pastor Steve considers the homeless community in Fort Collins a big part of his community. If he can do something to give them a leg up, he will.
“To me it’s a civil rights issue as a pastor obviously. It’s a moral issue of who belongs and who doesn’t belong in our neighborhood,” said Pastor Steve.
The idea of 24-hour locker storage seemed simple enough. He even surveyed a number of homeless in his community to make sure it was a priority.
“They can keep their items safe. They can keep them secure. They can go to work without worrying, ‘Am I going to come back where I stashed it and it’s going to be gone?'”
Every Friday, the Fort Collins Mennonite Fellowship serves a hot meal to the homeless. There is one complaint Pastor Steve says is constant.
“Somebody will tell me, ‘Do you have an extra backpack? Somebody stole mine.'”
For the homeless, it’s a costly set-back.
Tiffany, a spunky Fort Collins native living on the streets, was sleeping near the church when her backpack disappeared.
“I had everything in there and someone stole it,” she said.
After a short interview process, she qualified for a locker. The rental period lasts for three months, and unlike other storage facilities, she can access her belongings anytime. If the weather changes, she can get a coat. If she has an early morning job call, she can store her blankets without fear someone will steal them. It was a game changer.
“Now I have somewhere safe to put everything I own, in a locker and it’s not going to be messed with,” she said.
The Planning and Zoning board approved plans for 20 lockers in July, but it was met with opposition.
“Not just from city officials, but by many probably in the business community to try to get the homeless out of this part the city of Fort Collins,” said Pastor Steve.
The community fears the lockers will attract more problems. While Pastor Steve disagrees, there are neighbors who have seen changes since the existing 11 lockers were installed.
“There is a genuine need. I just don’t think that, as far as the general scope of things, all of the consequences and all of the safe-guards have been considered,” said Pablo Romero.
Romero and his husband have been living directly next door to the church for five years. They are not opposed to the lockers, but have noticed and increase in activity since they have been installed.
“In many cases, they’re [homeless] building things like little shanty towns, bringing furniture in and camping out. There have been incidents at night where there have been brawls or loud arguments happening at 3, 4 a.m. waking people up. I do know that several neighbors have complained that they have found human waste in their yards,” said Romero.
He has never called police, but his neighbors have. He is tolerant and believes there is a solution.
“I would like for the both the Mennonite church and the city to enter into a dialogue concerning how this can be monitored better,” said Romero.
Pastor Steve says the city backed out on an offer to fund the locker storage program so the church created a GoFundMe page. It raised nearly what the city was offering and helped to fund the program. It’s still open and has raised more than $9,000.
It’s clear there is support. The first 11 lockers were donated, as were the locks.
While Pastor Steve has installed surveillance, he says hiring someone full-time to monitor the area around the lockers is not within their means.
An appeal filed against the locker program will be heard in front of city council Oct. 9 at 6 p.m. Until that time, the city says the church can move forward with the remaining lockers “at it’s own risk.”
“We are called to lift the burdens,” said Pastor Steve.
For at least Tiffany, he has done just that.
Jamie Leary joined the CBS4 team in 2015 and currently works as a reporter for CBS4 News at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. She couldn’t imagine a better place to live and work and will stop at nothing to find the next great story. Jamie loves learning about and hearing from her fellow community members, so connect with her on Facebook or Twitter @JamieALeary.