Local homeless pitch in to clean up illegal camp
Karen Peppers has been here before, and she isn’t a happy camper about having to round up a crew to remove another pile of trash from an illegal encampment above Glenwood Springs’ Linwood Cemetery.
But Peppers and the half dozen or so men from the Feed My Sheep homeless center who donned their work gloves and hauled out another 4-yard dumpster full of stuff Thursday were more than happy to do it to help show a good face and take some responsibility.
It’s the exact same spot they cleaned up last year.
“We had 1,500 pounds of trash last time,” Peppers said. “To walk up here and look at this mess again just breaks our heart.”
The longtime Feed My Sheep director works hard to spread the message among the local homeless population to be respectful of the Glenwood Springs community, not to hassle people, not to camp illegally on city or private property, and not to leave a mess for others to clean up.
“A lot of us have lived around here for a long time,” helper Robert Helvenston said, explaining that he has lived in the area since 1991 and along the way “got myself homeless.”
“Fortunately, Feed My Sheep has a big heart, and we want to help,” he said. “There is some payback here. I don’t care if we’re the ones who made the mess or not, people still see it and someone has to clean it up.”
Glenwood Springs Police Chief Terry Wilson said his officers busted up several illegal camps on the fringes of town Wednesday. That included the one near the cemetery, another in the oak brush near Glenwood Meadows and one on private land on Iron Mountain where there had been reports of shots fired earlier in the week, he said.
“We also had one down on the banks of the Roaring Fork River below the high school,” Wilson said. “It happens every year, and people just need to be reminded that camping on city property and trespassing is illegal.”
Every time it happens, though, there’s a ripple effect through the area’s homeless population, Helvenston said.
Some of the “drifters” who pass through town aren’t always aware of the rules regarding camping, or don’t care, he and others who were helping out on Thursday said.
“I work hard to keep my camp immaculate,” Helvenston said, gesturing to the “other hill” to the north where he’s camped out on federal land, a practice that also carries with it certain rules and regulations.
Daniel Brown was one of those who happened to “drift” into Glenwood Springs after several years in Milwaukee and a short stint in Denver. But he said he also recognizes that the community deserves respect.
“I know there has been some growling in the community, so we just want to do our best to help out and not cause any problems,” Brown said. “Right now, there are some people who are doing things they’re not supposed to, and quite frankly I don’t blame the community for being upset.”
Feed My Sheep doesn’t operate a homeless shelter during the summer, as it does in winter. So camping for the area’s many resident and transient homeless through the warmer parts of the year is common.
Peppers said she advises those who bother to ask that Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service lands are the only place where camping is allowed, and that there is a limit on the number of days they can stay in one place.
“We tell people they have to go to BLM land, and if that means hiking two or three miles, then that’s just the way it is,” she said.
The BLM’s Colorado River Valley Field Office limits dispersed camping (outside designated campgrounds) to seven days between April 1 and Aug. 31, with the 14-day limit during the remainder of the year, according to area BLM spokesman David Boyd.
“That is seven days shorter than some BLM field offices allow, because of the urban interface and to help with the issue of people trying to live on public lands,” he said.
The White River National Forest, which typically involves higher-elevation lands, has a 14-day camping restriction.
In any case, camping on federal public lands is intended to be temporary and not a permanent situation, Boyd said.
After seven days at a BLM site, campers must relocate at least 30 miles away and can’t return to the same site for 30 days. And, a campsite also cannot be left unattended for more than 24 hours, he said.
Still, with one law enforcement ranger patrolling a half million acres of BLM land in and around Garfield and Pitkin counties, enforcement of camping rules is limited, Boyd said.
“Our ranger spends a lot of time patrolling areas where we know we have these issues,” he said. “If it’s clear that someone has a lot of stuff and is trying to reside there, we tell them they can’t do that.”
Peppers said the heightened attention to issues such as camping and panhandling in Glenwood Springs does cause some “tension” for those who are just trying to get by from day to day, and who use the homeless center to grab a meal and a shower, or to make phones calls to try to line up work.
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For some West Glenwood residents, the 480 Donegan project looms over the area as both an affront to the process of public engagement and a potential threat to their lives.