After a marathon meeting that stretched into the early hours of Wednesday morning, Loveland City Council took first steps to change its approach to managing homeless camps.
Although there was no official action, the council directed city manager Steve Adams to draft an ordinance that would allow the city to remove the camps from public property “as soon as possible.”
“I’d like to see us impose a municipal camping ban in the city of Loveland and if we have to build a campground then let’s deal with that,” Councilor John Fogle said. “…What we did was in everyone’s best interests, including our legal protection…But this has to stop. It has to stop now. Please, let’s do it quickly.”
The council’s decision to proceed with a camping ban came after a lengthy public and private debate that began on a tense note. After a delay in discussing the cost of the recall election, council members voted to start the homeless discussion first in executive session, prompting a viewer to chide them for wasting the public’s time.
“We’ve sat here for hours listening to our words,” said Terry Wilkinson. “We are frustrated. It’s been almost three hours.”
Further comments from Wilkinson were met with an expletive from council member Steve Olson, who later apologized. But the council also agreed to meet again before the executive session for public comment.
The comment period finally began well after 9pm and unanimously endorsed urgent action by the city to contain an issue that one Kings Crossing business said was “getting out of control”.
“We’ve had trucks stolen, we’ve ransacked equipment, we’ve lost thousands of dollars of our gear, our money that’s going to go back to our employees to help build community, to give back to people within the community,” Amon McCrary said by McCrary and Sons Landscaping.
Other area residents and business owners said they witnessed violence or indecency and were reluctant to bring their children to the area. Others claimed there has been a noticeable increase in burglaries and disturbances at commercial properties along Lincoln Avenue, particularly in Safeway.
The council then retired to executive session for more than an hour to discuss the potential legal risks associated with stricter enforcement of unauthorized camping. When the meeting resumed, the council heard a presentation from Adams detailing the extent of Loveland’s homeless population.
According to the city manager, the number of homeless people in Loveland has increased in recent years, as it has across the state, but in 2020 the number began to increase more significantly. As of April 22, there were 41 “active camps” in Loveland, including seven with “Priority 1” health and safety concerns. There are also 31 Abandoned Camps that have been removed.
“We have some information that people are coming to our city because there are other communities around us that have camping bans and we don’t, so they’re finding their way here,” Adams said in response to a question about the increase. Relaxed drug possession laws at the state level are also a factor, he continued.
After the presentation, several councilors called for immediate action, including the ban on camping, but also for stricter enforcement of existing laws where possible.
“You can pluck four ounces of your poison, but I guarantee the supplier will have a lot more on board than that,” Councilor Dana Foley said to applause from the crowd. “We really need to go after them like white on rice. Make it hard, make it absolutely painful. That way these dealers won’t want to come to the town of Loveland because we’re going to nail them. Let go of our police.”
In response, Alison Hade of the city’s Community Partnership Office argued that solving the issue will require more than increased enforcement and called on the city to continue or increase efforts to reach out to the homeless community, particularly from non-police sources. She also spoke out in favor of SummitStone’s co-responder program.
Officer Garrett Osilka, who was actively involved in the Loveland Police Department’s efforts to reach out to the homeless community and answered questions from the council, told members the department had had some success with those efforts but needed “more tools.” to be really effective.
“There are some people who have open arms and wanted that help,” he said. “However, there is a population that doesn’t want anything to do with it, because of mental illness or whatever. … For this demographic, which is our toughest demographic, we need the ability to enforce the laws that are already on the books.”
Adams said writing the proposed regulation will take a week, but coordinating logistics could take longer. One of the biggest hurdles is securing a temporary alternative for displaced campers, as leaving them homeless could be a violation of civil rights.
“That won’t be ready for next Tuesday, so I’ll ask for some time,” he said, adding that a regulation should be ready for the council at its next regular meeting on May 17.
If adopted, the regulation would be subject to a second reading unless designated as an “emergency” regulation, in which case it would come into force immediately.
“We want to make sure we’re applying and approaching this thing the right way,” Adams said. “And also not to put our police officers in a situation that would be untenable.”
If passed on May 17 or 24, it is unclear when the clearing of the camps would begin as multiple authorities would be involved and campers would need to be notified in advance. So far, the city has not identified a possible alternative, although several suggestions were made during the discussion, including camp-style temporary housing, tiny homes, or converting existing buildings into temporary housing.