CARBONDALE - Town officials and Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario on Tuesday concluded that there is not much to be done to push "the vagrants, the panhandlers, the loiterers," as Vallario described them, away from the intersection of Highways 82 and 133.
"It's the community that's creating the problem," Vallario said at a town Board of Trustees meeting, "by giving them money, giving them food, whatever."
The best way to discourage the activity, he said, would be for motorists to stop obliging the homeless with money and other gifts.
The sheriff had been invited to talk with the trustees about the issue of panhandlers, vagrant campers and other homeless individuals begging for handouts from coveted spots on raised traffic islands.
Carbondale Police Chief Gene Schilling, also appearing at the meeting, noted that encounters between panhandlers and motorists this year have led to increasing calls to his department by irate motorists.
"Our complaints have skyrocketed," he said, although he said the surge in complaints has dropped off recently.
Vallario noted that the panhandling, as well as campsites near the intersection, all are taking place in the highway right of way, making it a problem for the Colorado Department of Transportation.
But, the sheriff added, "it's not a criminal offense" under state statutes.
He said the problem might fall under highway safety regulations, though he was not sure how such regulations could be enforced in this case.
But the real answer, he declared, is in the hands of the general public.
"If you don't feed them, they'll go somewhere else," he said.
Some at the meeting, however, suggested compassion and consideration as the best ways of dealing with the matter.
"The people who are doing this are not doing it because it's a glamorous way to make a living," Trustee John Hoffmann said. Vallario countered that panhandlers can make as much as $20 an hour at the intersection.
Hoffmann, along with Colorado Mountain College sustainability student Lacy King, argued for establishing some kind of local shelter, perhaps with avenues for the homeless to find jobs, as a better answer than trying to send them away or put them in jail.
"We should encourage these people to basically make something out of themselves," said Jesse Murillo, a Roaring Fork High School student who acts as a liaison between the school and the Board of Trustees.
Most importantly, Murillo said, the homeless should not feel that they are "considered as trash" by the general populace.
Trustee Elizabeth Murphy, noting that town officials have a lot to deal with currently, with the budget and other matters, suggested that the issue of what to do with the local homeless population be put off until January and then reinvestigated.