Overdose leads to Carbondale homeless move | PostIndependent.com

Overdose leads to Carbondale homeless move

Ryan Summerlin

A dozen or so campers on private property in downtown Carbondale got booted Sunday evening after a drug overdose drew attention to their camp. Now Trustee Katrina Byars is pushing for the town to do something for the people who have nowhere else to go.

A section of private property used as a parking lot behind Dandelion Market and Thunder River Theatre had recently attracted many people living out of RVs and other vehicles.

Police Chief Gene Schilling said the incident began with what was thought to be an overdose on cocaine.

Town Manager Jay Harrington said the police received complaints of drinking and partying on the private property, which has a “no trespassing” sign posted and where the people didn’t have permission to stay.

Following this incident, and after two people there were also charged with trespassing and obstruction, the owner of the property found out and wanted police assistance removing them from the parking lot.

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Schilling said even if they had the property owner’s permission, they were in violation of a town ordinance capping the number of days at 14 that people can stay on private property in an RV or camper.

Parking and keeping your camper in the public right of way isn’t allowed at all, the chief said.

Carbondale police have been stepping up enforcement of camping in the public right of way, where officers have been running into more violations, said Schilling. Officers also have been checking for abandoned vehicles in anticipation of upcoming snow removal.

Byars, a town trustee and manager of Dandelion Market, said that at least 14 people stayed in the private lot, sometimes as many as 20 people in up to eight or nine RVs.

She agrees that concentration of people created some safety concerns, but she’s also been searching for an alternative to simply kicking them out. Many of these people live and work full time in Carbondale, said Byars, who is running for mayor.

Since then she’s been pushing the town to open up an RV park that’s typically closed for the winter, or take some other action to assist the people in campers with no where to go.

But opening the RV park during the winter would come at a maintenance cost to the town, and Byars isn’t optimistic the trustees will support that. The park is also funded with Colorado lottery money, which brings rules on how it can be used, she said.

But despite the location’s problems, “if the town council wanted (the RV park) to be the answer, it would be the answer,” said Byars. “It’s not a perfect solution, it’s an emergency housing solution,” which she said is a chronic wintertime problem for the town.

The town could also ask for help from faith-based organizations, some of which are outside the town limits and therefore not restricted by Carbondale’s 14-day ordinance, she said.

The year-old Carbondale Homeless Assistance, formed last winter to help the homeless escape the cold, has also been preparing for the winter.

However, Realtor Lynn Kirchner, who founded the group, said the removal of these campers from private property was proper. Her group lends assistance in a number of ways, even renting hotel rooms for the homeless on the coldest nights, but it doesn’t condone encroaching on private property without permission, she said.

Getting the issue in front of the Board of Trustees at all could prove challenging, as no other trustee during Tuesday’s meeting lent Byars the support needed to put the RV park issue on an agenda.

“The Board of Trustees doesn’t think it’s an emergency, but I think it is for the people who don’t have anywhere to sleep tonight,” said Byars, who’s recently had firsthand experience with homelessness.

“I venture to guess none of them have ever been in that situation.”

When a pair of assaults against women walking through town at night shocked women in Carbondale this summer, “the public safety issues didn’t get on the agenda because of me; it was a bunch of angry people showing up,” she said.

Even if the RV park is a nonstarter, the trustees can look at some other options, at least to get out of the way of groups trying to find solutions, she said.

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