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Cañon City community weigh in on proposed tent shelter

Proposed tent city in Cañon City
Posted at 7:29 PM, May 03, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-04 00:50:08-04

CAÑON CITY — There's a plan in the works to create a temporary tent shelter in Cañon City. Law enforcement and city leaders say it will create a safe outdoor space for those experiencing homelessness. However, members of the community are opposed to the proposed plan.

The ordinance was read during a city council meeting on Monday night. One of the community members to share their concerns was Will Colon.

He and his family own property and land in Cañon City, and his property has become a home for the homeless. He told News5 he walks on the land every day, and finds that homeless leave trash and belongings behind. He’s also had to tell them to leave multiple times.

Colon believes creating a tent shelter would make the problem worse. But city leaders, say it'll help the homeless get off properties like his, and give them a place to go.

“Just last week, there were four or five tents in the area. This is my family's farm and my family's ranch. I have to patrol it,” said Colon. “They tend to come to our property and set up tents, they move in, they bring a lot of trash, and they don't have the proper facilities.”

The Colon’s property is less than a half-mile away from where the city is planning to set up the temporary tent shelter. It’s essentially a camping area within city limits. It would be operational and up and running for six months out of the year during the winter and colder months. The temporary shelter otherwise known as safe outdoor shelter will be managed by a local public agency or coalition of agencies.

“The mayor and city council have looked at a number of different pursuits to try and help those people that are experiencing homelessness and transition them back into mainstay society. This temporary sheltering ordinance is one of those pursuits,” said Chief John Schick of Cañon City. “Oftentimes you see communities just kind of push this issue of homelessness to the side, but the city has taken this head-on.”

The temporary shelter is planned to go up near the Police Department, the Fremont County Human Services, the court, and Loaves and Fishes. Chief Schick said it’ll be centrally located in town so officers with law enforcement can stop by and check in on the shelters. Loaves and Fishes, a nonprofit helping the needy, is also close.

“It allows the city, for an interim time, to put up shelters, mostly in the winter when the weather is most significant for these folks that are homeless, and it puts them in a concentrated area with better security better resources,” said Chief Schick. “When we look at the numbers of folks that are leaving homelessness and making their way back to recovery, housing, employment when you collectively look at all this I think Cañon City is on to something.”

Mayor Ashley Smith says, in the past few years Cañon City had taken a methodological approach to address homelessness. Through collaborative efforts, they’ve reduced the homeless population from about 400 people several years ago, down to nearly 150, and nearly 30 are children.

“For three years, reducing homelessness by 60% is a huge celebration,” said Mayor Smith. “But reducing homelessness in Cañon City it's always going to be a problem. It's always going to be there. And we have to have the toolkit to address it as best as we can.”

A pilot program for the temporary shelter was also in place this past winter. Mayor Smith said, of the 21 people who sought shelter this season, more than 15 people got the help they needed and got back to mainstream society or loved ones.

“We learned that there was a lot of value in it as well. Folks did end up being able to make life-changing choices, get into recovery and to get into housing, and now be in mainstream society. That's the ultimate goal,” said Mayor Smith.

Mayor Smith also noted the Supreme Court Ruling that requires authorities to provide an alternative place for someone to legally go, if that person gets evicted. She said that Loaves and Fishes were undergoing renovations during the past winter, and fell short of providing beds for the nearly 150 homeless people in the city.

The ordinance will be brought up again at a city council meeting on June 20th. The mayor and Police Chief say they will host community meetings to talk about the temporary shelter sometime before the next reading.

Chief Schick said he’s also working with the Fremont County Sheriff’s office about collaborations and working together to address the homeless issues.

However those like Colon, said addressing the issue like this, isn’t in the best interest of the community.

“We're very much opposed to there being another facility that we have to deal with. It will just bring more people to our little piece of what used to be heaven here. That's our concern. That's our fight,” said Colon. “I’m all for helping those people that are in our community. This city does a really good job in helping homeless, and as more homeless move here, we need more places for them to stay.”