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Homeless community eyeing locations for permanent encampment

Posted: 10:13 PM, Apr 26, 2018
Updated: 2018-04-27 00:13:11-04

As the months get warmer, talk of establishing a legal–and permanent–homeless encampment is picking up.

"Little mini houses–a community type thing to where you have access to the things that the homeless don’t have access to," explained Calvin Muzzy, who has been homeless, on and off, for the last 8 months.

Muzzy, like many other homeless individuals, has set up camp on private property.

"In a tent, just over the hill here," he indicated during his interview with News 5.

But it’s far from a home.

"Every day, you hear rumors… ‘oh this place is going to get posted, you’ve got to move out of here.’  It’s just day to day.’"

And on Thursday, rumor had it his camp was going to be put on notice.

"I’m on my way home back to my camp to find out what the deal is–see if we have to move and how soon we have to move.  The next question is, ‘where?’"

Blackbird Outreach Executive Director Trig Bundgaard says there’s not an easy answer to that.

"There’s really nothing that can be done as long as private property owners are willing to displace the people on their property."

But even those who wanted to house the homeless on their property, would need a special permit.  Rocky Top Resources, for example, had previously allowed a homeless camp on its property.

It is now in the middle of rezoning as an Industrial zone district–which doesn’t allow for any kind of camping.

"If the property owner applied for a variance use for a campground, it would have to go to a public hearing," Mindy Madden, with El Paso County Code Enforcement.

"And the ultimate decision on whether or not to approve or deny that would be up to the board of county commissioners," she added.

With one exception, according to Bundgaard.

"Unless you’re a church.  Religious camps are allowed in every single zoning that’s available in the county and city," Bundgaard told News5.

He says Blackbird Outreach is currently talking with two congregations about that very possibility.

But so far, that’s all it is–a discussion.

"There’s over 10,000 acres of church owned property in El Paso County, and a lot of it is undeveloped.  Churches could step in with their automatic zoning usage rights and create a religious camp and start solving the problem for hundreds and hundreds of people outside," said Bundgaard.

Homeless camps are allowed on public property, only when the Springs Rescue Mission (and the seasonal warming shelter) is full.

Otherwise, homeless individuals can be ticketed, and have 24 hours to move somewhere else.