EL PASO COUNTY — Pairs of large roll-off dumpsters have been placed at several locations along the creeks at the edge downtown Colorado Springs.
It is a signal of homeless camp remnants near-by
“On an average week, we're filling anywhere from like five to 10 of those 30 yard roll-off dumpsters,” said Colorado Springs Neighborhood Services Manager, Mitch Hammes.
A crew of 13 with Colorado Springs Neighborhood Services cleaning up camps every week.
“Those 13 people, by September 1st had already collected over a million pounds of trash from our city,” said Hammes.
“We don't know where they get all this stuff, I have no idea. If it’s donated to them, if it's taken from somewhere, we can't figure it out,” said Keep Colorado Springs Beautiful, Executive Director, Dee Cunningham.
Cunningham has been dealing with homeless camps in and around Colorado Springs for nearly three decades.
“28 years ago, there was a culture out on the trail what we used to refer to as Cowboy camping. If they camped, they kept their sights pretty clean for the most parts.
She has watched the culture and impact change and expand. What used to be mostly along waterways downtown is now across Colorado Springs and out in the county.
”Any day you go down a trail, you might see a pop up camper, you might see a car that's being inhabited. Anything. We never used to have vehicles way, way back in the day,” said Cunningham.
Fire chiefs from across El Paso County recently reported that so far this year they have had to deal with more than 300 fires that started at homeless camps.
The crews who work around the camps week-to-week say it could be more because the often put out abandoned fires.
“Every day there are fires out of control,” said Cunningham, “We got on a trail yesterday found one, asked them to put it out. They were hesitant.”
The clean-up crews are persistent. As they work they also refer people they encounter at camps to local aid agencies.
“We’ve found that by posting camps as soon as they're reported, or as soon as we find them, it keeps the camp smaller and the amount of trash in each location isn't as bad as if we were to ignore or let an area sit for three weeks or four weeks,” said Hammes.
It is labeled clean-up but the effort also helps keep homeless camps from continuing to grow.
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