11 News Special: A Night In "Tent City"

By: Rick Montanez Email
By: Rick Montanez Email

The camps along Fountain Creek in southern Colorado have become more visible and more violent in recent months. Colorado Springs city leaders say it'll be weeks before they can address the homeless issue, possibly with a proposed ordinance to ban camping on city land.

To see what it is like living in the camps, KKTV 11 News headed down to the so-called “tent city” when most would head home if they didn't have to be there: after dark.

At 10 p.m. on a Friday night, 11 News reporter Rick Montanez and Photojournalist Vince Autry prepared for their stay.

In the first hour, they sat and talked with Corina. She's been on the streets for months. As she burned trash, newspapers, and some firewood to stay warm, Corina worried about her boyfriend. He’d been missing from the campsite for hours.

"This sucks. He’s usually the life of the party,” she said. It wasn’t until a half hour later when Chris Torrez returned to the camp. He was stumbling and said he was drunk.

Minutes later, Corina says, Chris hit her in the face. Colorado Springs police officers showed up shortly after that, and took Chris away in cuffs. "I need help... please... I'm sorry," begged Chris Torrez as the officers put him in the back of their cruiser.

Brett Iverson, one of three officers in the Homeless Outreach Team (HOT) with the Colorado Springs Police Department, says this is what cops at the homeless camps deal with every night.

“We're short-handed as it is. Our officers are running from call to call to call,” said Iverson. Since December, Colorado Springs police officers have answered about 80 to 90 calls just to the tent cities for panhandling, disturbances and assaults.

"It is taxing on our community to have an officers, several times a day, several times a night, to be going into these homeless areas to check on something that either doesn't exist or maybe shouldn't be there in the first place," said Iverson. He and the rest of the HOT team worry there is a lot more violence in the camps that is going unreported.

11 News learned a homeless man was assaulted a few weeks ago. He was beaten unconscious. "They thought he was dead after they assaulted him, so they tried to roll him up in a tarp and throw him in the creek bed," said Iverson. The man survived, but Iverson says there are many more violent attacks like this. "The homeless live in fear that they might be the next one to be assaulted," added Iverson.

"It's not a safe situation for anybody down there, not for people who go down there and try to do good things, not for people who live there," said Bob Holmes, the executive director for Homeward Pikes Peak. He says a lot of the danger and violence in the camps often stems from the fact that many who live there have some form of a mental illness. The disorders are not always diagnosed or treated properly. "For the people that are severely mentally ill, they sometimes self-medicate with alcohol," said Holmes.

Mental illness is not the only cause for the problems in the camps. Officer Iverson says it's hard for his team to keep track of the criminals who sometimes hide out in the camps. "We do have felons who were arrested for felony assault, felony menacing,” said Iverson. “We've got people with HIV, full blown AIDS, hepatitis C, meningitis. We've got so many issues going on that it's becoming a big concern," Iverson said.

The concerns of homeless assistance groups and the HOT team are being addressed by dozens of other advocates and city leaders as well. They are all working together to find help for those who live in the camps.

"It's going to be a long slow process,” warns Iverson. "Nothing's going to happen overnight, you know, we're not going to go down there and start kicking everybody out and telling them to get their stuff and leave."

Right now, there is no city ordinance to force the campers off the creek beds. It only keeps them from camping in city parks. But next month, the Colorado Springs Police Department will go before the Colorado Springs City Council to present a new ordinance to ban camping on all city land. Advocates and city leaders hope eventually, the homeless numbers will come down, and the tents will follow.

Comprehensive Homeless Assistance Programs (CHAP), like the Springs Rescue Mission and Homeward Pikes Peak, is working on alternative housing options. One new idea that’s just started involves using the El Paso County Detox Center for help with sobriety.

Leaders of CHAP say the homeless community needs to become more accountable for themselves. They think that will not happen until people stop taking donations directly to the camps. Instead, they have asked people to call the United Way at 211 to find out which organizations need donations.

Below is a list of homeless organizations:

Homeward Pikes Peak (719) 955-0731

Catholic Charities of Colorado (719) 475-2347

The Springs Rescue Mission (719) 632-1822

The Salvation Army (719) 636-3891

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Comments are posted from viewers like you and do not always reflect the views of this station.
  • by Nathan Location: Fountain on Feb 7, 2010 at 10:52 PM
    I know that there are many issues when discussing the tent cities. One, however, jumped to the top after watching the news tonight. I heard to statements that when brought together become outrageous. During the "Tent City" portion of the broadcast, a police officer stated what would probably happen if the new legislation is passed. Police would probably take the tents, along with other possible items, away from our homeless people in order to use as evidence against them that they have broke the new law. Yet, I noticed there are several groups and agencies asking us to donate these very same items to ship to the equally unfortunate people of Haiti. I feel really bad for Haiti also. I just think it is time that we start to help our own homeless first for once. It angers me that our community seems alright with giving and helping so much with Haiti and at the same time we find it acceptable to ignore and deprive further our homeless people in our own community. For once, help home first.
  • by BTK Location: Colorado Springs on Jan 27, 2010 at 10:06 AM
    Nick...what a narrow minded ***hole you seem to be. Wait, check that...that you are! Why would you suggest that BTK stands for Blind, Torture, Kill...? Have you ever thought maybe these are my initials or a moniker meaning something totally different. You appear to be one that speaks only to hear himself. Try keeping the focus on the topic and not what you think of someone's name, moniker, or ideas. From what I read you can only be critical of others ideas yet provide nothing of value yourself. Have a nice day.
  • by James Location: Colorado Springs on Jan 26, 2010 at 09:54 PM
    Anon, let me DUMB this down for you...I have been homeless and I climed out from the homeless hole with no assistance from people as narrow minded as yourself. I am going out on a limb here,I am guessing your IQ at around 100. I am going even further and am guessing you have NEVER been in dire straights either. Go back to your silver spoon and choke down some caviar. Are you married to our CITY MANAGER???
  • by still here Location: security on Jan 26, 2010 at 05:07 PM
    Nowhere in the Constitution of the United States is there a requirement to live indoors. Too many people assume all homeless people have a problem, but running homeless people off does not help anybody. Many people feel they have neither anything left to lose nor owe a roof for themselves to anybody. At least many haven't victimized us just to be in prison. Some have had minor issues in their past, and nobody willing to hire them for a living wage. For those who don't understand, a living wage is one that leads to self-sufficiency, not the dead-end high school student wage that's so predominant here. When declined for an interview because of a 25 year-old misdemeanor, and subsequently earning a 4-year degree, my options have become limited to panhandling, homelessness or prison. Government guaranteed student loans have really helped. I prefer they be homeless than choosing prison. The problem here is societal ignorance in contributing to the problem, not the homeless.
  • by Anonymous on Jan 26, 2010 at 03:56 PM
    James, you go live with the homeless and see that you can learn something from them. Yes, homeless people has been here before and will always be...Like Lanette said, you people are ignorant idiots!!!!
  • by James Location: Colorado Springs on Jan 26, 2010 at 12:58 PM
    What happened to a higher education? Speaking English. Do you need me to dumb it down some Anon? Booo, you are too funny. Anon, I have not seen ANY action; in fact, I am one of they few trying to derive a solution. What is your solution or cause for action?
  • by lanette Location: colorado springs on Jan 26, 2010 at 11:31 AM
    Don,So do youthink there were no homeless folks before Obama?You "Sir" are an ignorant idiot.
  • by booo on Jan 25, 2010 at 01:23 PM
    yawnnnnnnnnn!! yes start some where again the first step to identify and aid the ones who who indeed truly want to be helped and then take the help and not abuse it but to use it for the best possible those who are "professional" homeless they are hopeless as it is probably lot easier for handouts as the country's mentality is being changed from giving to taking from being productive to being a welfare beneficiary in any way shape or form , be it the banks, be it congress, be it the 8,000$ home buyer credit, the auto bailout , the cash for clunkers etc or be it the drug addicted alcoholic homeless getting by on handouts
  • by Anonymous 111 on Jan 25, 2010 at 11:04 AM
    James and Nick can not talk simple English where people can understand. Try using less words and more action.
  • by Anonymous on Jan 25, 2010 at 05:37 AM
    Nick..talk English.
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