Unique approach to homeless camps

Teller County, CO, June 12, 2019– The Teller County Sheriff’s Office took a unique approach to homeless camps today with its partnership with a non-profit group known as “Focus on the Forest” and affected land-owners.

For months, rural areas of Teller County have seen an increase in homeless encampments popping up along Rampart Range, Gold Camp, and Shelf Road.  In an attempt to mitigate the dangers posed by homeless camps having open fires for heat and the hundreds of pounds of refuse which typically gets blown by the wind and scattered by animals, the Teller County Sheriff’s Office has embarked on a slightly different approach to the problem.  “We acknowledge and empathize with folks who find themselves in circumstances which may be beyond their control in securing a place to live. We also understand that we have discretion as law enforcement officers and can approach the issue from a compassionate, community-based perspective,” Commander Greg Couch said.

The issue began some time ago when several homeless camps sprung up in area known as “Shelf Road or County Road 88,” part of a tourist area known as the “Gold Belt Scenic Byway.”  It is located just outside of Cripple Creek in Teller County.  There were multiple piles of trash left by previous illegal campers and new piles of refuse as a result of living without trash service.  The area is boasted as the “Roads to Riches” and spans from U.S. Highway 24 to U.S. Highway 50 and features “distinct scenery ranging from rolling mountain parklands to deep rocky canyons.”    Gold Camp road carried stagecoaches from the mining camps of Cripple Creek and Victor to the Arkansas Valley in the  late 1800’s.

Upon learning of the issue, TCSO met with local landowners including a Denver-area woman, Newmont Mining Corporation and Ryan Blevins who all own property that was affected by the trash pileup.  Mr. Blevins proposed a community-based solution that hinged on a few stipulations.  The homeless campers were advised of Teller County’s recently passed camping ordinance three weeks ago, given time to find another dedicated campsite, and supplied with trash bags from Focus on the Forest to pick up their area.  In exchange for the extra warning time and consideration, the campers agreed to help with the cleanup.

TCSO recently assigned a deputy to a “homeless liaison position” in order to direct those in need to public assistance resources and ensure compliance with local ordinances.  TCSO plans to build upon its relationship with Focus on the Forest and will continue to offer balanced responses to the unfortunate homeless issues in the county.

For more information on how you can volunteer to help with Focus on the Forest, please contact Shawn Nielsen at 719-648-1557.

For more information on the Gold Belt Tours, please contact Michelle Rozell at mrozell@cripple-creek.co.us