Though 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 would like to see us put an urban camping ban in the city of Loveland, and if we need to build a campground, let’s get with it,” Councilor John Fogle said. “…What we’ve been doing has been in the best interest of everybody, including protecting ourselves legally…But this has got to stop. It’s got to stop now. Please, let’s do it quickly.”
The council’s decision to proceed with a camping ban came after a prolonged public and private discussion that started off on a tense note. Following a delay to discuss recall election costs, council members voted to start the homeless discussion in the executive session first, prompting a spectator to chastise them for wasting the public’s time.
“We’ve been sitting here for hours to have our words listened to,” Terry Wilkinson said. We’re frustrated. It’s been three hours almost.”
Further comments from Wilkinson were met with an expletive from Councilor Steve Olson, who later apologized. But the council also agreed to reconvene for public comment, before the executive session.
The comment period finally got underway well after 9 pm, and was uniformly in favor of urgent city action to curb a problem that one Kings Crossing business said is “getting out of hand.”
“We’ve had trucks stolen, we’ve had equipment gone through, we’ve lost thousands of dollars of our equipment, our money, that is supposed to go back to our employees to help build the community, to help give back to people within the community,” Amon McCrary of McCrary and Sons Landscaping said.
Other residents and business owners from the area said they had witness violence or indecency and were reluctant to bring their children to the area. Others claimed there has been a noticeable uptick in burglars and disturbances on commercial properties along Lincoln Avenue, notably at Safeway.
The council then recessed into executive session for more than an hour, to discuss the possible legal risks associated with stricter enforcement of unauthorized camping. When the meeting resumed, the council heard a presentation from Adams, detailing the scope of Loveland’s unhoused population.
According to the city manager, the number of homeless residents in Loveland has been growing in recent years, as it has throughout the state, but in 2020, the number started to increase more noticeably. As of April 22, there were 41 “active encampments” 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 into our city because there’s other communities around us who have camping bans, and we don’t, so they’re finding their way here,” Adams said in response to a question about the increase. Laxer drug possession laws on the state level are also a factor, he continued.
Following the presentation, several councilors called for immediate action, including the camping ban, but also stricter enforcement of existing laws, to the possible extent.
“You can have four ounces of pick your poison, but I guarantee the supplier has a lot more than that on board,” Councilor Dana Foley said to applause from the crowd. “We need to really go after them like white on rice. Make it hard, make it absolutely painful. That way, those dealers won’t want to come into the city of Loveland, because we’re going to nail them. Turn our police force loose.”
In response, Alison Hade, from the city’s community partnership office, argued that solving the issue involves more than enhanced enforcement, and urged the city to continue or increase its outreach efforts to the unhoused community, especially from non-police sources. She also spoke in support of the co-responder program from SummitStone.
Officer Garrett Osilka, who has been actively involved with the Loveland Police Department’s community outreach efforts to the homeless community and was on hand to answer questions from the council, told members that the department has seen some success with those efforts, but needs “more tools” to be truly effective.
“There are some people that have open arms, wanted that help,” he said. “However, there’s a population that doesn’t want anything to do with that, because of mental illness or whatever the case. …For that population, which is our toughest population, we need the ability to enforce the laws that are already on the books.”
According to Adams, writing the proposed ordinance will take a week, but coordinating the logistics could take longer. One of the tallest hurdles is securing a temporary alternative for displaced campers, since them without shelter could be leaving a civil rights violation.
“That’s not going to be ready for next Tuesday, so I’m going to ask for a little bit of time on that one,” he said, adding that an ordinance should be ready for council action at its next regular meeting on May 17.
If approved, the ordinance would be subject to a second reading, unless designated an “emergency” ordinance, in which case it would be effective immediately.
“We want to make sure that we apply and approach this thing properly,” Adams said. “And also don’t put our police officers in a situation that would be untenable.”
If enacted on May 17 or May 24, it is unclear when removal of the encampments would begin, since several agencies would be involved, and campers will have to be notified in advance. As of now, the city has not identified a potential alternative, though several suggestions were offered during the discussion, including temporary camp-style housing, tiny houses, or converting existing buildings into temporary shelters.