Broomfield City Council directs police to address tent camps on case-by-case basis\
PUBLISHED: June 30, 2021 at 10:55 a.m. | UPDATED: June 30, 2021 at 10:55 a.m.
After nearly a four-hour study session solely discussing enforcement of camping in public spaces, Broomfield City Council ultimately directed Broomfield police to continue to enforce the way it has been — on a case-by-case basis.
Individuals experiencing homelessness have recently pitched tents in Broomfield’s open spaces and highly-trafficked areas like County Commons Park, and residents have voiced concerns about the sight, the trash, the safety and the growing trend. An individual was camping recently on both public and private property off of Perry Street, leading the city and county to hire an environmental contractor to clean up the campsite once the individual left, according to a city council memo.
Broomfield’s Municipal Code states it’s unlawful to camp in a park without a permit. Director of Parks, Recreation and Senior Services Clay Shuck said the permit language refers to one-off instances, such as a Boy Scout troop holding an overnight trip in a park.
Broomfield police Chief Gary Creager in a presentation explained to the council that the department currently addresses individuals camping on a case-by-case basis. Officers communicate available resources to the individuals and regularly check the welfare of the occupants. He said only one summons has been issued for camping this year.
“Summonses are a self-fulfilling prophecy as far as I’m concerned,” he said, and explained that it gives a person a court date and can ultimately lead to an arrest if the person misses the hearing and a warrant is issued. He said issuing summons is the last resort, because putting the individuals in the jail doesn’t solve the problem. Once they are released, they typically go right back to where they were, he said.
Given the current circumstances, Creager asked for feedback from the council on the three enforcement options: issuing a summons, limited enforcement or strict enforcement.
“Every major city in the United States is fighting this problem and trying to find a solution and as much as all of us have researched this none of us have found a solution,” he said.
The city and county attorney’s office presented relevant case law and litigation from other cities. They cited the case in Boise, Idaho where a court ruled individuals sleeping in public in Boise would not be cited or arrested when no shelter was available. Through the settlement reached in February, the city of Boise was to invest $1,335,000 in preventing homelessness, the Idaho Press reported.
“Realistically, they have to go somewhere. And if not here, where? That’s really the question we beg to answer,” Creager said. “Because that’ll be the first question we’re asked in court.”
There was a sense of urgency to the conversation as staff cited encampment sweeps in Denver and Boulder. City and County Manager Jennifer Hoffman said the sweeps happening in the cities on both sides of Broomfield will begin to impact Broomfield “in the next five to seven days.”
Ultimately, the majority of the council — six members — approved the police department continue to enforce the way it has been, with Councilmembers Deven Shaff and Kimberly Groom voting against. Councilmember Stan Jezierski wasn’t present at the meeting, and a Ward 5 council seat is currently vacant.
Councilmember Laurie Anderson asked if there was a way to help the unhoused with ties to Broomfield versus newcomers. She said she doesn’t want Broomfield to become a magnet for those experiencing homelessness in other areas.
“People are going to go where they aren’t kicked out. A compassionate approach is going to draw people here,” Hoffman said in response. “We can’t differentiate compassion in our housing versus our checkbook.”
Anderson, who represents Ward 4, said she’s heard from many residents a desire to not allow camping in County Commons. Creager said picking and choosing where to enforce the ordinance would be challenging. He said rather than delineating where people cannot camp, it would make more sense to find a place where they can camp.
Councilmember Shaff said there has to be a place for the individuals to go if a camping ban were to be enforced.
“There has to be a where. To tell them you can’t stay here, where are they to go? The first thing we have to do is find that where,” he said. “We have to find short-term options because we can’t construct a shelter overnight.”
Councilmember Sharon Tessier proposed the idea of some sort of safelot for unhoused individuals to safely camp. She said she could talk to The Refuge and other faith-based communities about potential sites, and she asked for city staff to provide a map of city-owned land.
Several councilmembers stressed homelessness is not new to Broomfield, and the lack of affordable housing has only exacerbated the issue. Councilmember William Lindstedt said keeping Broomfield’s unhoused population invisible for so many years was not the right thing to do.
“We’ve done such a woefully poor job of allocating those resources for so long and now it’s an emergency,” he said.
Creager showed a presentation slide at the start of the discussion depicting an iceberg. Above the water was chronic homelessness, and below the surface were the words episodic, transitional, hidden and at-risk. He emphasized Tuesday’s meeting was solely on how to address chronic homelessness. The additional aspects listed under water will be discussed at the follow up meeting in September.
Councilmember Jean Lim asked Creager if the rise in property crime in Broomfield is tied to those experiencing homelessness. He said there is no correlation, and noted 70% of people who commit crimes in Broomfield have no ties to Broomfield. The department sees petty crimes among the unhoused, such as shoplifting food to feed themselves.
Because Broomfield doesn’t have a homeless shelter, there is no accurate way to quantify how many individuals are experiencing homelessness in town. Director of Human Services Dan Casey shared statistics from Boulder Valley School District’s Broomfield schools, hotel vouchers distributed over the winter months, data from Broomfield FISH and Clinica, each having a different estimate of Broomfield’s unhoused population. Casey said Human Services estimates about 200 individuals in Broomfield are experiencing homelessness, but there isn’t a delineation on how many of those would fall into the chronic homelessness bucket.
Creager said Broomfield police officers assigned to the issue do know each unhoused person by name. While the number of those chronically homeless is “but a very small number,” he said, the department is seeing a recent increase in homelessness.
While the council agreed to move forward to look into what it means to designate a safe lot, it would still be classified as a temporary fix. Lindstedt questioned what would happen through the winter months when it would no longer be safe to camp outdoors.
The council approved a special meeting in three weeks to follow up on the conversation with some short-term fixes before the Sept. 7 meeting. Hoffman said the various points city staff are following up on will be compiled and can also be shared with the public.
“This was a great conversation, as much as it was messy, I got a great understanding of what you’re doing,” Councilmember Heidi Henkel said to Creager. “Just that care that you’re taking for each individual person. We can’t box it into strict enforcement because people are different, situations are different. … I think we landed on a humanistic approach.”