We’ve been receiving reader comments about some activities on the Westside of Colorado Springs. Has the Westside become the dumping ground for homelessness problems that used to plague the downtown area? It’s looking like that may very well be the case.
My husband and I love thrift shopping. For over 15 years, we’ve shopped at the ARC thrift store on West Uintah and 19thStreet. They have some unique items and it’s entertaining to shop and see what’s new each time we go in. It’s a wonderful store and we support their mission. Over the past 9 months, though, we’ve observed a change in that area of Colorado Springs.
In the ARC parking lot that is adjacent to an Ace Hardware, a Walgreens, and a King Soopers, people approach us and ask for money. Inside the ARC, homeless people come and go from the store. The outside is littered with shopping carts and garbage. On cold evenings, there’s a big steel drum with a fire burning inside just outside the ARC. Multiple people wrapped in blankets stand around the fire. It’s a scene straight out of a movie filmed in New York City. Yet, it’s Colorado Springs.
We have nothing against folks who have fallen on hard times —medical issues like cancer, job losses, etc. It could happen to any of us. We do, however, have a problem with aggressive, threatening behavior and outright theft.
Just last month, we encountered a man who walked through the ARC store with a knife tied around his waist. He had his hand on the knife handle and paced the aisles. To say it was uncomfortable is an understatement. During that same trip, a security alarm went off at the back of the store. We heard clerks acknowledging it was an alarm for the back door. At the same time, a homeless man exited the front of the store with a backpack full of merchandise. Another person in the store yelled out to him, “enjoy your free stuff!” The environment was made intentionally chaotic by outlaws who had no respect for the staff or the customers.
I have never observed a police presence in the area. The business owners are trying to do good in the community and they deserve better. Why is it okay for their employees and customers to be intimidated and for their merchandise to be stolen? These theft acts aren’t exclusive to the ARC. We have witness reports that they are happening at other Uintah and 19th area stores, too.
Back in 2016, the Colorado Springs City Council implemented The Pedestrian Access Act. It prohibits people from lying and sitting in certain areas of the downtown and Old Colorado City. In January, 2022 the ordinance was expanded to include Colorado College and the North Nevada development area. The downtown area is the hub for various homeless services like shelters and food kitchens. Organizations like the Springs Rescue Mission do good work in the community. If an ordinance prohibits homeless people from sitting in many areas around the Springs Rescue Mission, where will they go instead? Adjacent neighborhoods, of course. There are no services for the homeless in those areas, though. They must walk or take the bus to areas where they can get free, hot meals.
It seems that some are trying to remedy that problem by expanding homeless services on the Westside. Recently, the announcement was made that a teen shelter is being built on the Westside right near the W. Uintah and 19th St businesses that are being plagued by crime. What could possibly go wrong?
We spoke to BlackJack Pizza employee Sarah Schmoll. She said the businesses in the 19th and Uintah plaza where the restaurant is, held a meeting months ago. A representative for Colorado Springs Police Department (CSPD) attended and things have improved in the plaza. She acknowledged that the homelessness problem in the area has worsened over the past 8-9 months. The restaurant staff stay vigilant and lock their back door. Also, they don’t go into the alley after dark, as there are always people sitting out there. She said that the 7-11 across the street has some of the highest numbers of neighborhood homeless people sitting and lying around the business.
Additionally, we spoke to Susan Hubbard, the district manager for the ARC store. She said the aggressive behavior and theft problems have worsened over the past 8-9 months. The store has a policy that staff will not interfere in the theft activities. They want to protect the safety of employees and customers. She has been working to figure out solutions. She has talked to the CSPD and they instructed the store staff to call the non-emergency police line for every issue —no matter how small. She doesn’t believe the brazen activity is exclusive to the Uintah Store, though. The South Academy and Pueblo ARC stores have been dealing with problems, too.
In this article by the Southeast Express, the increasing presence of homeless people in the southeast was blamed on police enforcement pushing homeless people out of the downtown area. In the article, Beth Roalstad, the executive director of Homeward Pikes Peak said, “Dorchester Park, areas around Springs Rescue Mission, America the Beautiful Park, there’s less people there because of increased police presence with the rise of new tourism destinations. The opening of the Olympic Museum and the connection to America the Beautiful Park and the new soccer stadium have made the community very aware of the homeless population —it became very visible. I think the city stakeholders and police have tried to push people away from downtown.”
We reached out to District 3 City Councilwoman Stephannie Fortune and At-Large Council members Bill Murray, Wayne Williams, and Tom Strand about the homelessness issue being pushed out of downtown and into other neighborhoods. We have not yet received a response. Our suggestion is for those elected representatives to hold a Westside townhall to discuss how to best address concerns.
Reach out to those city council members, and Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers. Ask how they plan to address the problems on the Westside. Those residents and all Colorado Springs residents deserve better. If the problems weren’t acceptable in the downtown area, they aren’t acceptable in our neighborhoods, either.
John Suthers firstname.lastname@example.org
Stephannie Fortune email@example.com
Bill Murray firstname.lastname@example.org
Tom Strand email@example.com
Wayne Williams Wayne.firstname.lastname@example.org